MLK Speaker Chronicles Civil Rights Leader's Latter Years

by Brandon Stewart '08

January 16, 2007

The MXI was busy yesterday with a number of events to celebrate the legendary civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. Bright and early at 7AM a group of students led a peaceful march across campus to kick off the day. At noon, Professor Emeritus Hall Peebles gave a lecture entitled, "Midday Reflections". All day, a small "Freedom Exhibit" was on display in the Caleb Mills House. The cap of the day’s program, however, was a speech by lawyer and author Drew Hansen entitled, "The Dream: Martin Luther King Jr and the Speech that Inspired a Nation." The 7PM lecture which was held in the Chapel focused on some of the more tragic realities of Dr. King’s life.

Amina McIntyre the new assistant director of the MXIBS introduced the program. After recapping the events of the day, she related to the crowd how this holiday resonates very powerfully for her having grown up in Atlanta, Georgia. Her father stressed the importance of "understanding the strong richness of black history and where you came from," said McIntyre. "MLK Day is more than just about what he did," she said, "he represents so much history of civil rights."

After Amina, the student chairman of the MXI, Charles Jackson ’07, stood up to introduce the lecturer. Born in rural Wisconsin, Hansen was raised in Seattle, Washington. A 1995 Harvard graduate, he became a Rhodes Scholar and graduated from Oxford in 1997. After Oxford, he attended Yale Law School where he was the editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal. Currently practicing law in Seattle, he is the author of the book The Dream Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Speech that Inspired a Nation which discusses the famous "I Have a Dream Speech" and helps the reader to understood the speech in the context of the times, introducing them to the debate over the real implications of that address.

"We usually highlight the triumphs of MLK, but that’s not the point of my talk tonight" Hansen said. He continued by asserting that the tragedies tell us a lot more and that the King’s life has a lot to tell us about what it means to be a "gentleman." Hansen spent a considerable amount of time chronicling darker years towards the end of King’s life where, according to him, "King was acutely aware that his movement was going nowhere." He began to focus on more abstract issues liked racial housing discrimination in Chicago a move which isolated King from many of his northern supporters.

As Hansen put it, there were many people willing to support the eradication of racism from the south, but it made many of these same people uncomfortable to face the truth in their own lives. Throughout the rest of the speech, Hansen related a more jaded and controversial image of King for the gathered audience.

After the speech, the floor was then opened for questions. There were a number of different questions, but the one that seemed to garner the most head nods and smiles was about whether King would still be hopeful about the race relation situation today. Hansen simply responded by quoting the "I Have a Dream Speech". For Hansen the quote is as true today as it was forty years ago when King first said it. "I say to you today, my friends... so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, [that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment] I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream."�


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