Lecturer: Mark Montesano
Teacher bio: http://peoplescolloquium.org/teacher-bios/
As we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., we want to also celebrate the civil rights movement of which he was a part. Long before King was a student, African-American leaders were struggling to find ways to claim the rights that they were already legally entitled to. Many of these leaders were inspired and encouraged by the achievements of Mohandas Gandhi in his struggle with Great Britain for justice and equality for Indians. These early leaders brought these ideas and strategies back to the U.S. and into the Black universities that King would one day attend.
King was a brilliant student who entered college at the age of 15. His dream, at that point, was not to become the leader of a congregation, like his famous father in Atlanta, but to become a professor at some prestigious university. His first job, however, was as a pastor for a middle class Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. The community there had long searched for ways to challenge Jim Crow laws that left them in an humiliating and inferior status. At 25 years old and as a precociously eloquent outsider he was the religious community’s choice to be their mouthpiece in the confrontation with the white power structure. He was reluctant at first, but as he surrendered to this call, he found himself swept up into the cultural momentum that produced stunning advances in civil rights.
As a result King become the face and voice and fruit of this movement and its enduring symbol. After his death, at 39 from an assassins’ bullet, he became an international symbol of courage in the pursuit of justice and a more humane society. King was much more complex than our two-dimensional image of him, however. A student of Gandhi and committed Christian, with a profane lust for life; a passionate believer in the idea of America and influenced by socialist and communist ideas; considered an enemy of the state by the FBI. At the end of his life he believed his movement had been a failure. His story is both heroic and tragic. What can we learn from him and this spectacular cultural movement about our history, about our present; about ourselves as individuals?
“Parting the Waters” by Taylor Branch
“Bearing the Cross” by David J. Garrow