Miles Christopher, contributor
Augsburg hosted its 32nd annual Martin Luther King, Jr., Convocation this past Monday, marking the day when Dr. King would have celebrated his 90th birthday. The event was a mix of performances and orations by students, faculty and guests, who both celebrated the life of one of the great heroes of the civil rights movement and underscored the need for continued action in the face of adversity, perhaps most notably shown by a banner reading “Justice Long Delayed is Justice Denied” which hung behind the stage.
Dr. John S. Wright, a Professor of English and African American and African Studies at the University of Minnesota, was the keynote speaker. He spoke for a short time about himself, and his work, during which he explained that he had helped recover a newsreel of a speech that Dr. King gave to an audience of several thousand at the University of Minnesota in April of 1967, which Wright then played. In it, Dr. King expounded on the subjects of equality and civil liberty – and the entrenched racism that they were embattled with – but also spoke out against the ghettos of major cities and the poverty that they were a symptom of. Drawing parallels between the two, Dr. King called for the institution of a guaranteed income, words that may sound familiar to those following the Democratic primaries, while attacking the failures of theLyndon B. Johnson’s so-called “War on Poverty” due in many ways to the racism that was built into the program.
Dr. King also talked about the errors of United States foreign policy, especially in regard to the Vietnam War.“I have personally decided to tell America the truth because I love America so much and I want to see our great nation stand as the moral example of the world,” said King. “And the course we are taking now is not only a wrong course, not only an evil course morally, but it is a politically suicidal course, and America can end up like many great nations and civilizations of the past. The tragedy is that we are on the wrong side of a world revolution.”
Once the video ended, Dr. Wright spoke about the context and lead-up to Dr. King’s speech at the U of M, in order to give the audience a better grasp of the whole picture. He also drew parallels and, in some cases, direct connections between the subjects that Dr. King was speaking about then, and the things that were happening in the world today: the continued struggle against racial and economic inequalities and their links, as well as American interventionism as illustrated through the recent drone strike on the Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. After he had finished, the audience was given time to digest and discuss the diverse topics presented to them before the closing remarks were made.
When asked what he would like those who listened to his speech to take with them, most of all, Dr. Wright said that he wanted everyone to be willing to spend the time to do their own research on Dr. King and anything else that seems important rather than simply listening to the snapshots given by the prime time news.