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SMC celebrates Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, work with dinner

| Friday, January 20, 2017

Saint Mary’s Student Diversity Board and the Division of Mission hosted a dinner in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and work Thursday

The dinner featured guest speaker Darryl Heller, director of the Civil Rights Heritage Center at Indiana University-South Bend.

“[King’s] dream was one of racial harmony,” Heller said.

Heller discussed not only the most famous actions of Martin Luther King Jr., but also the lesser-known aspects of his work.

“The King that we’re almost never told about is the Martin Luther King whose conscience required him to break his silence over the Vietnam war, even knowing it would cost him the support of the Johnson administration and many others,” Heller said.

Martin Luther King Jr. tends to be remembered more for his “I Have A Dream” speech and other early work, rather than for the speeches he gave towards the end of his life, Heller said.

“We are almost never made aware of the King who asked ‘Where do we go from here?’ in a speech he gave at the 11th annual SCLC convention in Atlanta in 1967,” Heller said. “Here, King passionately spoke about the thread that connected the history of slavery with the oppression black people continue to experience. He called on black people to organize for economic and political power because he reminded listeners that the plantation and the ghetto were created by those who had power.”

In addition, Heller touched on the importance of taking into account the fact that African Americans have been enslaved for 246 years, and free for just 152 years.

“Today we still have been enslaved for 94 years more than we have been free,” Heller said. “The balance of black freedom to black slavery will not balance out until the next century.”

The attempts to reach this balance are continually met with backlash, Heller said.

“However, every step towards America’s promise has been met with a backlash meant to … expand white supremacy and patriarchy,” Heller said.

Over time, these backlashes can be seen expressed in different ways: Some include the Jim Crowe laws, lynching and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Heller said.

In recent times, “a burst of hope” was seen in the election of the nation’s first black president, Barack Obama, Heller said.

“This was met with increased voter suppression laws, a parade of unarmed black people killed by those who were supposed to serve and protect them, the rise of the school choice movement to support black education, and the thinly veiled rhetoric that appeals to those that want to hold on to white-skinned privilege,” Heller.

However, this resulted what Heller described as the “ultimate backlash”: the election of President-elect Donald Trump.

“Today, we are facing a new administration that looks backwards and draws upon some of the worst that America has to offer,” Heller said.

However, Heller also spoke of the fact that Martin Luther King Jr. inspired — and continues to inspire — an array of social movements in both our nation and abroad, and that in honoring Martin Luther King Jr., we should “honor the whole man.”

“The Civil Rights movement, which was led by black people, created a space and gave energy to multiple social movements in the 1960s,” Heller said. “This is because of [Martin Luther King Jr.’s] dream. Our dream. … Calling us to work towards a future that embodies not just the letter but also the spirit of the best parts of the nation’s founding documents.”

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About Jordan Cockrum

Jordan Cockrum is a junior at Saint Mary's studying Communications and Humanistic Studies.

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