Dr. King’s memory celebrated amid new civil rights challenges
On April 3, 1968 at the Mason Temple, Church of God in Memphis, Tenn., Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a speech titled, “I’ve Been to The Mountaintop.” During the speech, King foreshadowed a threat on his life but said the work that he started must continue.
“And then I got to Memphis,” King’s speech read. “And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers? Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain.”
It was the last speech King gave before his death; he was assassinated the next day at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.
The UC Davis School of Law, also known as King Hall, conducted a panel conversation on April 4, titled “50 Years Later: Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Civil Rights Legacy,” to remember the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s death and to honor his legacy.
The panel started with emotional spoken word speeches by students from Sacramento Area Youth Speaks and then proceeded with introductory statements by King Hall panelists. The panel included UC Davis Law Professor Emerita Angela Harris, UC Davis Associate Executive Vice Chancellor for Campus Community Relations Rahim Reed and Kim Waldon, a third-year law student and president of the King Hall Law Students Association
Harris began her introduction with a revelation on how King was not universally accepted at the time of his death, but instead was criticized for stances he had taken on civil rights. Harris discussed the threat to his life, and said it was a time of turmoil and struggle which continues today. Harris also emphasized the importance of thinking critically about the purpose of education and searching for truth at the current moment.
Reed attributed his education as a recipient of the work King did and his continued legacy. He also spoke on the importance of the landmark Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education (1954), mentioning the recent death of Linda Brown, the daughter of the petitioner in the case.
Reed spoke on the historical challenges that African Americans face when applying into law school. He also contrasted the difference in past courts sympathetic toward civil rights with today’s courts.
Waldon focused on King’s legacy and said the aims of his work are not complete and must continue. Waldon suggested that there is a need to be actively involved in the struggle for equality in education.
The panelists continued the conversation on the life of King and current challenges. The event also included a question and answer session where conversations about current challenges facing civil rights in the United States took place.
Carina Novell, a second-year student at the UC Davis Law School, gave her thoughts before the panel conversation began.
“Martin Luther King Jr. is a really big part of the culture here at King Hall,” Novell said. “I thought it [would] be important to come and spend this lunch hour remembering him. It is the 50th anniversary of his death, and 1968 was a very tumultuous year, with a lot of civil rights leaders being assassinated.”
Novell said the anniversary of King’s death day is “a day of remembrance and looking back at Martin Luther King Jr’s effect on both the United States and on the world.” Novell also said she was looking forward to the comments from the event’s panelists.
In an email interview conducted after the panel occured, Dana Scott, a second-year student at the UC Davis Law School, gave her impression of the event.
“The concept of implicit bias and understanding its connection to how far our society has come/still has to go was very compelling and left an impression on me,” Scott said. “It is something that we often know exists, but we don’t fully acknowledge its impact as much as we need to.”
Scott also gave her thoughts on the climate of civil liberty protection today and what lessons can be learned from King’s advocacy.
“The need for continued advocacy and work is extremely present,” Scott said. “As a society there is always something that we can all be doing, and we have to be active in finding our role to support others and better ourselves as a whole.”
In an email interview, Waldon shared her personal thoughts on the event. She stipulated that her responses were not a reflection of the UC Davis Law Students Association, the Black Law Students Association or any other organizations in which she held a leadership position in.
“Violence, as I see it, is any kind of peaceful resistance,” Waldon said. “When you are hindering a person’s ability to get home by marching on a highway, or when you are preventing a person from going to work by protesting in front of their building, that’s violent. But I think that type of action is called something else depending on who’s acting. When black people exercise their right to peaceful resistance, when they protest or march to show their unrest or disapproval of government systems, it becomes violent in the most negative sense […] because society, as a whole, still doesn’t understand what we are resisting.”
Waldon offered a poignant remembrance of King’s legacy.
“To remember Dr. King’s legacy, I looked at the Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Waldon said. “I think that’s a quintessential reminder that Dr. King wasn’t the most beloved figure in his time. As a whole, I think people put a rose-colored cloth over his legacy not realizing he was a beautiful and necessary revolutionary that was also troublesome. I don’t think we look enough to the type of challenge he brought to government structures and social structures. Rereading the Letter from Birmingham Jail put me back in a place where I recognize the type of unwanted revolutionary he was in his time.”
Waldon spoke on the important work that law students can do to advance civil rights.
“Law students have the unique and privileged position to challenge laws that don’t make sense, and make ones that do,” Waldon said. “When the average person engages in civil unrest and challenges the laws, lawmakers and prosecutors have a tendency to silence their voices by saying, ‘You don’t know how the law works, you don’t understand.’ Law students do. They can be a part of protests and marches and other challenges, and [they] cannot be dismissed for their ignorance. They are confronted with the law every day and are in the best position to call out hypocrisy and fix discrepancies so that we can finally realize Dr. King’s dream.”
A full video transcript of the panel event can be accessed on the UC Davis Law School website..
Written by: George Liao — firstname.lastname@example.org