Dr. King’s Legacy Series: Joe Lomax

The 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination is on April 4, 2018. King died in 1968 at the age of 39 in Memphis, TN. It was a turbulent time in America where leaders were assassinated, war was prevalent and America was changing its history. King greatly influenced American Society, becoming a leader of the civil rights movement and using his platform to impact the world in the 1950s and 1960s.

During this time, University of Wisconsin-Platteville’s emeritus professor of criminal justice Joe Lomax was completing many firsts. Lomax became the first Black police officer for the Beloit Police Department in Wisconsin and the first Black faculty member at UW-Platteville. Lomax helped to start the criminal justice program here on campus, he established the criminal justice internship program and career day, and the forensic investigation program. Though he faced many challenges, Lomax said that there were officers and professors who reached out and offered friendship and support for his new careers.

Could you give me some background information on your life in relation to King’s movements?

“Before I took the position here at UW-Platteville in 1969, I worked in Beloit, and there were a number of things going on which I’m sure that King was aware of and probably impacted by. We had the Vietnam War. We had peace groups. We had the Black panthers. We had Black Muslim groups. There were also flower children. In law enforcement, we had to try and keep the peace [between the groups]. I am sure King was aware of these things as they were not just happening in Beloit but all over the United States. So again, I am sure that he was aware and impacted by the groups and movements taking place.”

When and how did you first learn about King?

“We heard about the marches. In Wisconsin, in addition to that, there were disturbances. I don’t know if you want to call them riots, but there were disturbances in Wisconsin, and I recall going to meetings in Madison where we met up with the National Guard. And here, again, I was the only Black officer in those meetings. There were clear lines drawn on a map of Wisconsin as to where those groups were, particularly the Black Panthers and other groups, and also where the National Guard vehicles, armories and reinforcement were. In the event that the disturbances were to get outside of the communities that were lined off.”

What do you think about when you think of Martin Luther King Jr.?

“I think that, of course, some of the things I have told you already, he was impacted by that. I know that he was more one who felt that he would be able to persuade reasonable minds of the in equity between the races as well as in terms of economics. And I think he was trying to get that balance and of course the peace and that all person be treated equally, which is quite an objective, but he was attempting to do it and he held fast to that.”

What do you think to be King’s biggest impact on activism?

“I think that his persistence and his vision and his willingness to put himself, to totally dedicate himself to that end, and he wanted to do it in a peaceful way.”

What do you believe is the reason King decided to lead the movement?

“I think that many persons look to others to create or be the change that is necessary, and I think that he felt that he had to pick up and lead in that. He felt obligated and dedicated in picking up the reins and leading in the direction that he was dedicated to, as opposed to leaving it for someone else to do it.”

What do you think is left out of the dialogue on King?

“I think that there is more to understanding him and his dedication than the simple just ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. There is a lot more complexity to him, a lot more depth. And even to his humor. He was more of a person. We have kind of put him in one space, and he was more than that. He was a human being. He was all those things, but he was dedicated, too, that all persons should be created equal.”

In what ways do you try to advocate or embody the spirit of King’s message?

“This is kind of funny, in a sense, in that I had to use persuasion. I couldn’t use power or threat or anything else in order to gain employment with law enforcement. I couldn’t use that in being accepted to the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. I couldn’t use a threat or power to go out and gain the internship agencies at various levels of criminal justice, and I couldn’t use that to persuade agencies to come to UW-Platteville. I couldn’t use it to threat in order to get parents to send their children to UW-Platteville. It required more patience and persuasion to get like King. The feeling like if we made a great enough appeal, it would in fact [happen]. If we showed them the benefit, that it would in fact appeal to the parents. That those who wanted to pursue a noble occupation for the betterment of the government and the betterment of society.”

If you could say/ask anything to King, what would you say/ask?

“I would say I am honored to be able to ask him what he would have us do. I guess to make this a more equitable and humane society.”