The Monmouth College community celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day by listening to a scholar discuss the slain civil right leader’s relevance in 2017 and then discussing how some of King’s principles can be applied to current social challenges.
At a special convocation service honoring King’s legacy, Macalester (Minn.) College professor Dr. William David Hart called King an “inconvenient hero.”
Hart told a large crowd gathered in the in Louise DuBois Kasch Performance Hall of Dahl Chapel and Auditorium that one issue that made King “inconvenient” was his willingness to disregard the unjust laws.
“(He) was an outlaw for justice,” Hart said. “He disturbed our peace. He refused to let normality stand.”
Hart said that King was also inconvenient on the issue of patriotism.
“King said some very ‘unpatriotic’ things about our military, saying, ‘The biggest purveyor of violence today is my own government,’” said Hart, who is past president of the Institute for American Religious and Philosophical Thought and the author of three books, including Black Religion: Malcolm X, Julius Lester and Jan Willis. “King chose the cross over the flag. He knew there was so much that was being done that drew prophetic condemnation.”
Comparing opposition to civil rights in King’s era to government surveillance of its citizens in the 21st century, Hart added, “Under the soiled sheets of patriotism, people can do many bad things.”
Hart called King a preacher “who lived out his Christian creed through the black freedom movement. He believed that black lives matter, and for that proposition, he gave his life.”
Following Hart’s talk, a scene from the play The Mountaintop was performed. Written by Katori Hall and set on April 3, 1968, in Memphis, Tenn., the play depicts the civil rights leader speaking with an angel disguised as a hotel maid, who has been sent to tell King he will be murdered the next day.
“Like most men, you ain’t gonna be able to finish what you start,” the angel tells King. “You’re in a relay race. You’re going to need to pass on that baton.”
Following the convocation, a teach-in lunch was held in the Center for Science and Business to discuss groups that have taken up the baton King carried until his assassination almost a half-century ago. The event included information booths about Black Lives Matter, mass incarceration, food insecurity and Mujerista, a liberation theology for Latinas living in the United States.
The convocation was co-sponsored by several campus organizations, including the Public Affairs Committee, the Office of Intercultural Life, the Lux Center for Church and Religious Leadership and the student organization Umoja, which is Swahili for “unity.” It was also sponsored by the College’s peace, ethics and social justice program, directed by Associate Professor Dan Ott, who is teaching a course on King this semester.