Martin Luther King Event Spurs Action by Winnetka Eighth Graders
Gazette Article by: Susan Whitcomb
Appeared in the Gazette: Spring/Summer 2007
Cecilia Gigiolio, a Social Studies teacher at Washburne School, attended the January 15, 2007 Martin Luther King in Winnetka panel discussion with several of her eighth grade students. The next day, the class had a spirited discussion on the impact of Dr. King’s speech. Several students expressed concern that this important historic event would be forgotten if not given proper commemoration. It was suggested that a small marker on the Village Green would keep the importance and the spirit of the event alive.
“I explained the potential hardship of taking on this kind of endeavor and the amount of work involved. I went into quite a bit of depth concerning the different components required of a group asking for such a memorial. I was pleased that after all of my explanations the students were just as eager as they had been previously,” recalls Gigiolio.
The students organized quickly to develop a proposal and a petition and to build support with key constituent groups in Winnetka. The eighth graders circulated petitions both at school and around town, and gave presentations to the Rotary Club and the local VFW Hall. They put together impressive packets of personal letters to both the Park District and the Historical Society, ultimately receiving endorsement from all groups and over 400 signatures on the petition.
With many parents in attendance, the eighth graders were first on the agenda at the Village Council meeting on March 6. Students took turns at the podium, presenting the history and importance of Dr. King’s 1965 speech and sharing their vision for the appearance and placement of a historical marker. The Council was supportive of the idea, commenting that the students had done their homework before making the presentation.
On April 10 the Village Council heard public comments on the proposal. Several people spoke in favor of the plan, including panel participant David James, the first African-American resident of Winnetka and an organizer of Dr. King’s speech, and Robin Grossberg, a Washburne School staff member who had attended Dr. King’s speech as a child. After some discussion about where to best place the plaque (perhaps on the exact site where Dr. King had spoken), the proposal was endorsed unanimously by the Village Council.