It sits in the middle of the block between 400 and 500 East in Salt Lake City. Out front, along its grassy expanse, is 600 South, also known as Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

What better place to commemorate the great human rights leader than at Richmond Park?

The park is a reflection of our changing times, of milestones then and now. It is dedicated to the memory of one Mignon Barker Richmond, an African-American who was the first black man to graduate from Utah State University.

That was in June 1921. Eighty-two years ago this summer if you're keeping score. And some of you are.

Today, of course, is Martin Luther King Jr. Day — the 18th annual such celebration. The first Martin Luther King Jr. Day was observed on Jan. 20, 1986, although it was also known concurrently as Human Rights Day until 1994, when President Bill Clinton officially named the federal holiday exclusively after the late Dr. King, who was killed by a sniper's bullet in 1968.

With the distinction, Martin Luther King Jr. became only the third individual in American history to have a holiday named specifically after him. The other two are George Washington and Christopher Columbus. One discovered our country, one was the father of our country, and one was the conscience of our country.

It's a great honor to have a holiday named after you, the only drawback being that they tend to do this after you're dead.

Although the furor has since died down, there was a lot of debate in Washington in the 1970s and 1980s before Martin Luther King Jr. Day was finally passed by Congress. One of the biggest complaints was about all the money the country would lose by giving all federal workers the day off with pay.

But as it turned out, productivity went up.

Bob Dole, who was a senator from Kansas in 1986, silenced the frugal anti-holiday critics when he said: "I suggest they hurry back to their pocket calculators and estimate the cost of 300 years of slavery, followed by a century or more of economic, political and social exclusion and discrimination."

But even after a great speech like that, Dole still didn't go on to become president.

Richmond Park was dedicated on June 19, 1986, just five months after the first Martin Luther King Jr./Human Rights Day and just two years after the passing of Mignon Barker Richmond, who died on March 11, 1984. The old Aggie was born on April 1, 1897, so he lived a good, long life.

The plaque in his park that recognizes him as "Utah State's First Black Graduate" also pays tribute to him as an educator, civic leader and humanitarian.

The things that man must have seen in his nearly 87 years.

He was born barely 30 years after slavery was abolished and died just two years before an American holiday was named after an African-American.

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He also lived long enough to remember when Utah State had a decent football team.

You should walk through Richmond's park this week if you can find the time. It's a pleasant place, with a playground, benches, plenty of grass, a sand volleyball court and a small bowery.

It is an oasis in the city that speaks volumes about how far we've all come, as well as a reminder of two men who helped lead the way.

Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to and faxes to 801-237-2527.

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