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The unveiling of a historic marker honoring Sarah Keys Evans will help to usher in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day events in the Roanoke Valley.

The unveiling and dedication ceremony will be held January 15 at 2 p.m. at 1118 Roanoke Avenue, the site of the former bus station where Keys Evans, a uniformed member of the Women’s Army Air Corps, was ushered off a bus after refusing to give up her seat for a White Marine.

Her action in August of 1952 would lead to the Keys v. Carolina Coach Company lawsuit, which in turn led to an Interstate Commerce Commission ruling in 1955 which helped end racial segregation in interstate travel.

“We thought the 15th would be a great point to dedicate the marker and on the 16th we will have the wreath-laying ceremony in MLK Park where we built the plaza in her honor and on the 17th is Martin Luther King Day,” said Ervin Griffin Sr., a member of the Keys Evans planning committee. “We thought it would be a good way to kick off the weekend with honoring a trailblazer.”

Griffin said the event will be a culmination of projects the committee has been working on the last two to three years which included the public art plaza telling the story of Keys Evans and the work that Roanoke Rapids resident Rodney Pierce did in bringing the marker to the avenue. “I think it’s just a wonderful reminder of how far we’ve come in those last 60 years and how important it is to remember things like this.”

Georgette Kimball, also a member of the planning committee, said, “I am excited because I am a resident of Halifax County. I remember the bus station and the history that has been right here in our community. I was glad to be a part of this committee to learn this history myself as well as celebrate it.”

Kimball said the private first class’s story was something she didn’t know about until around four to five years ago. “I am pleased to be a part of this to highlight and enlighten our community about her as well as the world about the mark that she made right here in Roanoke Rapids.To celebrate her and put a marker right near the bus station where she was arrested that night it brings the pieces together and gives her thanks while she is living.”

Roanoke Rapids City Councilman Carl Ferebee said, “We have history that has been made. We’re celebrating an unsung hero who helped shape America. We’re holding it on a weekend to celebrate two trailblazers, Martin Luther King as well as her.”

Roanoke Rapids Parks and Recreation Director John Simeon said Pierce’s work leading up to the unveiling has been pivotal in bringing the day to fruition. “Mr. Pierce has done an excellent job communicating and being a part of this committee and assisting us with the process and being the liaison for the state of North Carolina historical marker program.”

Griffin said Pierce’s work, the planning by the city and the work of the committee shows the power of partnership “to make this what it should be and I think that’s the key to all of these projects that we partner with others.”

Kimball said Keys Evans is most appreciative of the recognition she has received in the city. “You can feel her appreciation and her enthusiasm. She is really thankful that people have thought about her and haven’t really forgotten her.”

Simeon said the plans call for an outside unveiling and dedication ceremony and in case of inclement weather the program will be held in the first floor conference room of Roanoke Rapids City Hall at 1040 Roanoke Avenue and then a walk to the marker to remove the shroud which currently conceals it.

Following the ceremony a reception at city hall will be held which includes comments from Julie Graves, the niece of Keys Evans, Pierce, and an update from Congressman G.K. Butterfield on plans to honor Keys Evans with the Congressional Gold Medal.