WISE COUNTY, Va. (WJHL) – Mary Eubanks, the director of UVA Wise residential life in the mid-1990s, started the tradition of honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on campus nearly three decades ago.
She’s described by her peers as a spirited and loving woman who knew how to take charge, even in a time when it wasn’t exactly welcome. Eubanks started the MLK Jr. Walk and Remembrance Ceremony, but in its early years, there was pushback. Sandra Jones was part of the inaugural walk and said for the first three years or so, people wrote anonymous letters in an attempt to stop the marches.
“We talked about it, we met about it, and we decided we were going to keep going regardless. It was frightening at first, but I’m glad that we didn’t let that stop us,” said Jones.
Perseverance was top of mind, and also top of mind is the mission of Miss Eubanks that replays in her head to this very day, 27 years later. Jones recalled the first march, noting the changes throughout the years.
“We walked on the sidewalk, people didn’t come out,” Jones said. “Now, people are outside waiting on us to come. People just enjoy it and they’re coming from everywhere to be a part of it, and that blesses me to see the unity.”
Corey Sanchez remembers his first time marching near the Wise County campus; he was just 20 years old. Now, he’s made the transition from eager participant to emceeing the ceremony.
“You can feel the energy in the place when we’re talking about the message of Dr. King, and it’s not just a one-day event, it’s something we should celebrate 365 days a year,” said Sanchez.
The evening candlelight march feels magical already, but to Sanchez, the real magic part is the meaning and the message left behind by Dr.King for generations to come.
“No matter what nationality or race, we build it together and make it better for everybody,” Sanchez said. “It takes time and the struggle is part of the success of the mission and sometimes we look back wondering how we got here because we don’t talk about the journey.”
After 27 years of marching, Jones said all she wants is to see the tradition continue for another 27 years.
“I pray that there’s someone there at the college that will continue to pass the torch and keep going because I don’t think this should ever be forgotten, and there are so many young people who are coming up behind us that need to know the story,” said Jones.
Sanchez said with the activism of a new generation, he believes the tradition will not only continue but also grow.
“I think the way the community has embraced it, and over the years people change and times change, and what the town and the college have done is come together. This is one of the events we can come together and not only celebrate Dr. King but celebrate our partnership,” Sanchez said.
As for Mary Eubanks, she’s still a part of the UVA-Wise family. University officials confirmed she works on the Charlottesville campus, continuing to help students and spread Dr. King’s message.