MLK Vigil March


Erika Weaver is a former Lake Land College & Eastern Illinois University student as well as a former employee of Navigator News. Photo via Darrius Frazier.

Darrius Frazier, Archivist

On Monday, Jan 16, the annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Vigil was held on the campus of Eastern Illinois University (EIU). Erika Weaver, former Lake Land College (LLC) and EIU student as well as Navigator News reporter, served as a guest speaker for the event. Additionally, Weaver worked as an adjunct professor at LLC. The vigil was held virtually the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 


The annual vigil is sponsored by the Zeta Nu chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, a predominately African-American social fraternity. Zeta Nu is EIU’s chapter of the fraternity. This fraternity is prominent in many college campuses across the nation. As a student of Morehouse College, Dr. King became part of the fraternity which is the reason why the fraternity is promoting this vigil.


Each year beginning in 1987, with the exception of 2021 and 2022, the vigil typically began on the first floor of Thomas Hall, one of EIU’s many residence halls. After a brief prayer and reflection, there was a march to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union and the main event was held upstairs at the Grand Ballroom.


Weaver was invited by the EIU’s chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha to become the guest speaker for the vigil and her message that evening was “to focus on doing your very best today.” Moreover, she mentioned that Dr. King inspired her because, “he was alive during the time that he was hated and rejected but he still advocated for his community and he put himself out there for people who did not always appreciate it. He kept going and was excellent in what he did.”


She received her Bachelor’s at EIU in Sports Recreation, her Master’s at EIU in College Student Affairs and finally her Juris Doctorate (JD) at Loyola University in Chicago. In 2020, running for the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat, she won the Primary but lost the General election to Mary Miller. She is currently the State Treasurer for the State of Illinois.


After Dr. King’s tragic assassination on Thursday, April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee, shortly after six in the evening, there has been grassroots efforts to have a national holiday in King’s honor led by Representative John Conyers Jr. (D-MI) and Senator Edward Brooke (R-MA). 


Over the years, votes from Congress fell short of the number required for passage. The main arguments against the Dr. King holiday was that ‘he did not hold public office, he was a private citizen, paid holidays for federal employees would be expensive and instead of a holiday in honor of him, to have a scholarship for African-American children in remembrance of him.’ 


However, the grassroots effort persisted and Stevie Wonder’s 1981 song, “Happy Birthday,” in honor of King, led to the holiday to be named in King’s honor. On Wednesday, November 2, 1983, President Reagan signed into law a federal holiday honoring King effective in 1986, celebrated on the third Monday in January. Many states in America honored King with a state holiday led by Illinois in 1973.

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