Local man remembers meeting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on memorable trip to Selma, Alabama

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- For Jim Nunnelly, 1965 was a year that changed his life.

“I was about to be a senior at the University of Missouri," he said. "I was one of only 50 African American students on a campus that had 17,000 Caucasians already."

Although the racial climate on campus at the time was tense, it wasn’t nearly as bad as the climate in the south, particularly in Selma, Alabama.

“The dogs were getting onto people, marchers had to be heckled, it was kind of a time that made you nervous,” Nunnelly said.

He traveled to Selma with a group of fellow students at the University of Missouri. The trip was organized by a campus ministry leader, who was called to the south to help King in his fight for equal voting rights.

Jim Nunnelly

“Every seat on that bus was taken, and we left at midnight so that we could hit the bad parts of Alabama and Mississippi at night rather than in the day,” Nunnelly explained.

He said during the trip he witnessed many events he considers to be down right racist. Nunnelly and his classmates saw a reverend being beaten in the street by police, those beatings eventually led to his death weeks later. He also witnessed voting discrimination against black people at the polls.

“It’s demeaning in a jump start sort of a way. You’re never going to be the same after that and that’s how I felt,” he said.

At one point during the trip, the group made a stop at Brown Chapel AME church the students got to meet the civil rights activist in person.

“I was able to see him when he arrived, so I got up and went down to where I would be in the receiving path of him coming, and he shook everybody's hands and I was in that row,” Nunnelly said.

He said the meeting happened early in King's career but is something that always stuck with him.

“Dr. King was a very young man at the time. He was barely into his 30's, I bet you. So this was kind of the takeaway lesson is that change has always been more fertile in the youth,” Nunnelly said.

That’s why he's very passionate about mentoring and connecting with younger generations

“I’ve spent the last 40 years of my life dedicated to young people, and I’ve not received a dime for any work that I’ve ever done with teenagers because that is my contribution, and it’s bigger than any other contribution,” Nunnelly said.

Now on the 50th anniversary of King's assassination, many say they’re re-energized and remembering the importance of carrying on his legacy.

“I think what we need to do is hold on to the fact that not only did Dr. Martin Luther King have a dream, we all have that dream, and that we should not just have that dream, but we should continue to walk and talk and try to make a difference,” Janice Nunnelly said.