The Civil Rights Movement is—and always has been—about so much more than just a dream, keynote speaker Jason Jordan told those gathered for “Out of the Shadows: Recognizing the Communities that Paved the Way for the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”
“Out of the Shadows” was held at Harkness Chapel on Jan. 30, part of Conn’s celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“For decades, the sum total of [King’s] actions, his life and his impact on American society have been boiled down to merely a four-word catch phrase spoken in 1963: ‘I have a dream,’” said Jordan, an assistant professor of history at the University of New Haven who specializes in issues of race and its role in the shaping of modern America.
“Those fine words are certainly worth a place in history, but they do not capture the full complexity of a man who stood at the vanguard of a modern era crusade for freedom.”
Jordan’s talk, “Reclaiming the Radicalism of the Civil Rights Movement,” challenged the modern narrative of the movement as both temporary and inevitable, and instead situated King and other Civil Rights leaders as radical visionaries not only in their own time, but in the present.
“The Civil Rights Movement was not one steady progression toward equality or toward color blindness; it was a struggle for black freedom. This meant using protests and political organizing as a means of combating not just segregation, but voter disenfranchisement, housing discrimination, joblessness, health care and education disparities, government-sanctioned violence against black communities by police and also economic inequality,” Jordan said.
“The fact that each and every one of these topics remain a pressing concern for African Americans even now should also dispel the notion that the goals of the Civil Rights Movement were in any way meant to be limited with the temporal balance of the 1950s and 1960s.”
Jordan spoke about King’s “last crusade” for economic justice, detailing his support of the Memphis sanitation strike and his plan for the Poor People's Campaign to pressure the government to address poverty in the months before his death.
“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. dreamt of a society in which children would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. Yet he also dreamt of a society where those same children would not go hungry at night. Where they would have a roof over their heads. Where they would be able to afford education, and proper health care. And where the work their parents did would be treated with dignity. This is something we should all remember, 50 years later,” he said.
Truth Hunter, the College’s director of race and ethnicity programs, said the theme of “Out of the Shadows” was inspired by students interested in learning more about the people and communities that served in the background to support and uphold King’s ministry and service.
Earlier in January, members of the community gathered to listen to and discuss one of King’s most controversial speeches, “Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam.”
“We know that this speech in particular made MLK a threat in America, and oftentimes when we think of MLK we don't think of him as a threat, more so as a peacemaker,” Hunter told The Day newspaper, which covered the event.
The commemoration also included “And the Womxn Were There” on Jan. 28, an interactive event about the contributions of Black women who supported King's activism and the broader Civil Rights Movement.
Wednesday’s keynote event, which was sponsored by Africana Studies, the Center for the Critical Study of Race and Ethnicity and the Office of the Dean of Institutional Equity and Inclusion, featured video opening remarks by President Katherine Bergeron, as well as remarks by Hunter, Interim Director of Religious and Spiritual Programs Angela Nzegwu, Associate Professor of History David Canton, Dean of Institutional Equity and Inclusion John McKnight and Kim Harding Emile ’92, who has served as the director of youth corporate mentoring programs at Big Brothers Big Sister of New York City and currently works as a therapist supporting children with autism and their families.
The event also featured the debut performance of the Connecticut College Gospel Choir, a performance of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” by Director of Career and Professional Development Persephone Hall, and a showing of the documentary short “Traveling with Dr. King” by Jaime Arze ’88. The event was hosted by Bempa Ashia ’20 and Mariel Ozoria ’20.