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History and happenstance

Not everyone who affects history appears in textbooks or on television. Sometimes they are your neighbor, and quietly go about their business without much ado, and sometimes their story is just as unique as the mythological and legendary subjects of classroom fodder.

Jim Owens lives in Latham and if you saw the 75-year-old on the street, you probably wouldn't think anything of it. But Owens played a part in something people do think about often: The Civil Rights movement.

Owens was the first black student to attend the Salesianum Catholic High School for Boys in Wilmington, Delaware, in the 1950's.

We made history without a lot of fanfare, Owens said.

Along his journey, eventually landing him in the Capital District, Owens also had the unique experience of sharing morning chats and coffee with music superstar Elvis Presley.

For the second year in a row, Owens shared his story with Boght Hills Elementary School students giving them what one teacher described as a unique learning opportunity.

Peter Hanrahan, who invited Owens to speak, is a sixth grade reading and math teacher and said reading books about Jim Crow Laws and Brown vs. Board of Education does not compare to hearing a first hand accounts the civil rights movement.

Hanrahan said a book club he runs was studying "Leon's Story," "Roll of Thunder" and "Here My Cry," and having Owens as a guest speaker allows the students to see the text put into context.

"He's really an interesting guy," Hanrahan said.

He came to speak on Wednesday, June 9 and said although the civil rights movement seems so far off for the students, there are still people who participated in it all around the country and, coincidentally, not too far from the school.

"That's ancient history to them," Hanrahan said. "[Owens] helps bring it to life."

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