Local activists recall meeting Martin Luther King Jr.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- The year was 1965: the height of the civil rights movement when the lives of a pair of teens from North Philadelphia would change forever.
Kenneth Salaam and Karen Asper Jordan were only 16 when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came to Philadelphia to join a demonstration at Girard College to pressure the school to allow black students to attend.

It was on that August day the two would meet the man they idolized.

"I started to stutter. I was stuttering so bad," said Asper Jordan. "He started to laugh and he hugged me and took my hand and hugged me."

Kenneth Salaam, however, wasn't at a loss for words that day. Known as Freedom Smitty, he was a member of the Freedom Singers. He was tasked with leading the demonstrators in Philadelphia in song before Dr. King took the stage

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Over the course of fighting for injustice, Salaam and Asper Jordan would be ridiculed and even arrested.

That didn't stop Salaam. He quit school and began to travel to other American cities, joining Dr. King even the more in the movement.

Their lives were threatened many times.

"I never seen Dr. King show fear. He would inspire others to hold their ground, hold their position. We're going to stand here until this issue is addressed," Salaam said.

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And then, the tragic moment of April 4, 1968.

"Non-violence was his forte, it was his mantra, and for him to be killed so violently it didn't make sense," Asper Jordan said.

As for Salaam, knew he had to leave Philadelphia and head south to Dr. King's Funeral.

But despite the enormous crowds, the passionate teen from Philadelphia was once again by Dr. King's side. A now infamous picture shows King's funeral procession, and right there is Freedom Smitty.

"I was in front of the procession Coretta Scott King his brother his mother and I started singing the freedom songs," Salaam said.

"He was more than a dream. He fought and talked and demonstrated against injustice. The movement always continues," said Asper Jordan.

Karen Asper Jordan and Kenneth Salaam met Dr. King nearly six decades ago but memories of the tears sweat and pain connected to the movement never leaves them.

They believe this country is better because of the civil rights movement and they are hopeful the young people in generations to come will continue to push for a fairer, balanced America.

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