Darius Gray was one of only two black American students at Brigham Young University at the height of the civil-rights movement in 1965.
His fellow Mormon students encouraged Gray, a freshman at the LDS Church-owned school in Provo, to go to the Wilkinson Center to see what he thought was a film celebrating the movement's advances. Instead, the eager underclassman discovered the movie was actually called "Civil Riots USA: The Watts Story," a John Birch Society propaganda film that attacked the movement as part of a communist plot.
On Monday, Gray will return to the same BYU building as the keynote speaker for the school's commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The popular speaker will explore the question of what King accomplished and what his life and movement meant to Gray, a retired journalist, author and Latter-day Saint. With his co-producer, Margaret Blair Young, Gray produced a documentary, "Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons," which has been shown to enthusiastic audiences nationwide.
"When you get into the meat of the man [King] and his efforts," Gray said Wednesday, "it comes down to his Christian principles healing the wounds of racism and weaving the family of God back together, regardless of race, religion and nationality."
In his speech, Gray plans to trace national events leading up to King's historic 1963 March on Washington, including episodes in Utah and the LDS Church.
Until June 1978, black men could not be in the faith's all-male priesthood. In 1937, Metropolitan Opera contralto Marian Anderson, a black woman, could not stay at either the Hotel Newhouse or LDS Church-owned Hotel Utah in downtown Salt Lake City. A year later, the Hotel Utah gave her accommodations as long as she agreed to ride up in the freight elevator.
"We don't know the history of discrimination in this country," Gray said. "Without that awareness, we can't understand Martin Luther King or his significance."
Walk and talk
A candlelight procession will begin Monday at Brigham Young University's Carillon Bell Tower at 5:30 p.m., followed by a free memorial program, with keynote speaker Darius Gray, in the Wilkinson Center Ballroom from 6 to 7 p.m.