Thursday, January 19, 2012

New UW speaker series honors contributions of Harriet Elizabeth "Liz" Byrd

Sen. Liz Byrd looks on as Wyoming Gov. Mike Sullivan signs law authorizing Martin Luther King, Jr./WY Equality Day at a 1990 ceremony in the State Capitol.
On Monday, we commemorated Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday with events around the country. The one held in Cheyenne featured a march by several hundred people from Depot Plaza to the State Capitol. Leading the parade were African-American leaders accompanied by Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead and his wife Carol, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill, State Auditor Cynthia Cloud, and Cheyenne Mayor Rick Kaysen.

Love & Charity Club organized the day’s events. The club’s Rita Watson was emcee. She introduced the state’s elected officials who made non-memorable speeches. They are all Republicans. On a daily basis, their policies seek to undo gains in social justice made by Dr. King and others in the Civil Rights movement. Inside the Capitol, Republican legislators were celebrating MLK/Equality Day by drafting legislation to roll back pensions of state workers, curtail social programs, destroy public education, and gerrymander voting districts to dilute the state’s minority vote which tends to be urban and Democratic. “Urban” you say? Wyoming is rural! “Minority” you say? Wyoming is white!

Take a look at the current redistricting maps and tell me why they look so funny. Why are the votes of city dwellers being watered down by the votes of dispersed rural populations. Cities tend to be more moderate and even liberal. There does seem to be an exception, and that’s Casper. What’s the matter with Casper? But overall, this holds true. Show me a Democrat in the state legislature who isn’t from a city or the Wind River Reservation and I’ll eat my hat.

Martin Luther King, Jr./WY Equality Day march in Cheyenne.
On Monday, Rita Watson mentioned the contributions of Harriet Elizabeth “Liz” Byrd, former state senator who was ill and couldn’t attend the festivities. Liz Byrd worked for almost a decade to pass legislation for a Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday. Seems odd that it would take a decade for The Equality State to honor a champion of equality such as Dr. King. In the end, the legislature named the holiday “Martin Luther King, Jr./Wyoming Equality Day. We have a hyphenated holiday. But we do have a holiday for Dr. King, just like the rest of the states.

Liz Byrd has deeper Wyoming roots than most of us. She went away to college and returned to find that teaching jobs with the Laramie County School District were closed to blacks. So she taught the children at F.E. Warren AFB. Remember that Republican Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower oversaw the end of segregation in the armed forces (and its schools). Sen. Byrd could enter the gates of our local military base and find a job. Not acceptance from everyone, but her value as a human being and a teacher were duly noted by the U.S. Government.

It’s gratifying to see that Sen. Byrd’s contributions are being celebrated by the University of Wyoming this week. UW’s African American and Diaspora Studies office has created the Harriet Elizabeth "Liz" Byrd Speaker Series.

Here’s info from a UW press release:
To recognize her many contributions to Wyoming, both as an educator and legislator, UW . AADS is working to raise $25,000 to endow the series, which will bring minority educators and speakers to UW and serve to honor the woman who sponsored legislation that, in 1990, established Martin Luther King, Jr./Wyoming Equality Day as a state holiday. 
"I can't think of a better person to represent the University of Wyoming," says AADS Director Tracey O. Patton. "She's emblematic of what we all hope to accomplish in life. I think every person on this planet would like to affect positive change for the world. Very few of us get to do that but she did. She has made lives better in the state of Wyoming."
Find out more about Liz Byrd at
Cheyenne Mayor Rick Kaysen speaks at the State Capitol Building on Martin Luther King, Jr./WY Equality Day.

No comments: