RACE RELATIONS | A change of heart

Local Missouri man chooses to leave familial bigotry behind

By DYLAN SMITH & KENNEDY WILLIAMS, News Reporters

KAHOKA, Missouri  (NEWS3) — The fight against racial injustice has reignited within the past half decade. In 2020, the passing of George Floyd has generated the push for equality to a whole new level.

Growing up in a small, predominantly Republican town, Edward Martin has seen the push for equality since its early days in the Civil Rights Era. Martin grew up on core conservative beliefs, but had a change of heart more than 40 years ago. 

In college, Martin began to discover the push for equality and became familiar with the American Civil Liberties Union. 

“Protests were so in vogue that we had one or two a week,” Martin said, remembering his years as a college student. “I became familiar with the ACLU at protests. They were represented sometimes, and then I started going to Columbia with my friends for political rallies and information seminars. In college I tried to be active.” 

Martin chose to enlist in the U.S. Army, and would later be sent to Vietnam. After two years of service, eight months of which were overseas, he returned to the United States hoping to resume the life he had left before joining the military. 

In 1977, Martin made the decision to join a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in his hometown, but quickly cut his ties with the group. 

“It was kind’ve a hometown thing to do,” Martin said. “The guys were the same guys in my hometown. We all drank beer together, played baseball together. They were the same guys on the volunteer fire department. That just didn’t last. I didn’t participate. I couldn’t agree with it once I had gotten off the farm. Once I saw where I was headed career-wise, I realized I would be working with all kinds of people, and so I closed that door for good.” 

Martin credits his children for playing a large role in educating him about the immoral values of inequality, and has since changed his beliefs. 

“We have a chance to bury it for good,” Martin said, “to bury bigotry. “Things won’t work right if we carry on like this, things just won’t work right.” 

Martin’s change of heart shows the world that with an open mind, both sides can come together, and when both sides come together, equality can be achieved.


Local activist’s conservative upbringing shaped social justice focus

By KENNEDY WILLIAMS, News Reporter

MACOMB, Illinois (NEWS3) — In 1968, civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, which led to riots across the United States.

It is also the year local activist Heather McMeekan was born in Park Ridge, Illinois. McMeekan comes from a very conservative, white background, and the messages she grew up with were to not talk about politics, race or religion.

“I always just felt like I was in the wrong family,” McMeekan said, remembering her childhood. 

McMeekan

Growing up with a hard-drinking father, McMeekan said she can relate to a system that is only there for you, if the white man with power is a good guy.

“The messages that we got as kids were, well maybe he won’t hurt you if you dress properly,” McMeekan said. “Maybe if you stand at the door and say, ‘Hi Daddy,’ and then not talk to him until after he has had a few drinks, maybe your night will go better.”

In fourth grade, McMeekan’s family moved to McHenry County, Illinois, and she quickly encountered racial discrimination.

“We had one black student, throughout all the years I was in school there, and every day she got treated awful, just despicably,” McMeekan said. “I just remember feeling like, ‘What can be done?’”

Coming to Western Illinois University, McMeekan met and connected with a variety of different cultures through the university’s marching band.

“It just bridges a cultural divide,” McMeekan said. “That helped me see that I needed to do better than what my upbringing prepared me for, so my friendship circles became far more diverse.”

After college, McMeekan became a paramedic, in which she witnessed several unjust incidents. She thought complaining would be enough, but she realized she had to be willing to share the burden of the pain of the victims.

Today, McMeekan has made it her life’s duty to share the burden of pain with victims of social injustice.

“It is not my goal to make people angry, but it is my goal not to be quiet,” McMeekan said.