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MLK Day of Dialogue events discuss history and democracy

MLK Day of Dialogue events discuss history and democracy

COURTESY OF DAISY NEWBURY

On Monday, Kenyon celebrated its 15th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Dialogue, which was organized by the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI). Honoring the March on Washington’s 60th anniversary last August, the programming focused on the theme, “The Dream Speech 60 Years On: Facing the Paradox of Democracy.” 

Bookended by the Chamber Singers’ performance of songs by American composer Undine Smith Moore, the assembly in Rosse Hall featured addresses from Assistant Professor of American Studies and History Francis Gourrier ’08 and Thomas S. Turgeon Professor of Drama and Film Jon Tazewell ’84. Following the assembly, audience members were invited to join a moderated breakout session of their choice.

In his address, Gourrier discussed the historical context surrounding Dr. King’s famous 1963 speech, emphasizing the importance of organizers A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin. He also touched on important civil rights campaigns leading up to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955), Greensboro North Carolina and National Tennessee sit-in movements (1960) and Freedom Rides (1961). 

“Many of us associate these [1963 civil rights] campaigns with the U.S. South… National media outlets often relegated that kind of violent antagonism of Black people to the South, ignoring the ways it was happening across the nation,” Gourrier said. 

Afterward, Tazewell spoke on the oration of Dr. King’s speech. He described how King utilized various metaphors and biblical references to emotionally connect to his audience, which ranged from D.C. policymakers to the crowd of citizens on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Breaking down the imagery in Dr. King’s speech, Tazewell explained the content’s significance not only in 1963, but in the present day. “[Dr. King] then goes on to conjure up the images of the great mountain ranges across the nation where freedom must ring out, including Stone Mountain in Georgia, where the call for a revived Ku Klux Klan was made in 1915, and where a monument to the confederacy remains carved in stone.” 

After watching a recording of Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, the audience was then invited to one of two moderated breakout sessions. Professor of History Glenn McNair and Associate Provost Wendy Singer hosted “The historical context of the March on Washington and the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech,” while Professor of Political Science Joseph Klesner and Associate Provost for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Ted Mason hosted “The ‘I Have a Dream’ speech’s relation to democracy in a polarized environment.”

Kenyon was not alone in celebrating the legacy of Dr. King. On Monday morning, Mount Vernon Nazarene University hosted Knox County’s 21st Annual Martin Luther King Day Celebration, inspired by Dr. King’s speech at the Washington Monument: “Out of a Mountain of Despair, a Stone of Hope.” 1998 NAACP President’s Award Recipient Bishop Edward Cook featured as the event’s keynote speaker, speaking alongside Mount Vernon Mayor Dr. Matthew Starr, Gambier Mayor Leeman Kessler ’04, Dr. Carson Castleman and President Julie Kornfeld. 

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