50th Anniversary of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Assassination
On April 4, 2018, Colorado College observed the 50th anniversary of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination at Shove Chapel. The Chapel’s bell rang 39 times, symbolizing the civil rights leader’s age at the time of his death. These chimes were followed by the magical music of the Pikes Peak Community College’s jazz ensemble.
Later, the documentary “Eyes on the Prize: Volume 10: The Promised Land” was shown. The screening, which was sponsored by Colorado College, Pikes Peak Community College and University of Colorado Colorado Springs, ended with a panel about the question: “Have we arrived at the Promised Land?”
The panel featured the following people: Dr. Regina Lewis, a professor at Pikes Peak Community College; Henry Allen, the founder and president of The Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Colorado Springs; Reverand Eric Graham, brother and president of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity chapter in Colorado Springs; Rev. Dr. Stephany Rose Spaulding, professor of gender studies at UCCS and the congress candidate for District 5; and Nikkita Mcpherson, the Diversity and Inclusion Programs Coordinator at The Butler Center at CC.
The panel members began by answering the question, “What does the Promised Land mean?” “The promised land is about community building while resisting white supremacy at all costs,” said Mcpherson.
Rev. Graham recognized that the Promised Land is a space where we all can exist without questioning. “We did not arrive to the Promised Land because of Barack Obama or Oprah Winfery,” he said. They are just symbols; we have a long way to go.
For Allen, the Promised Land exists when we apply Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy of humanity and non-violence. “We can’t get into the hate mode,” he said. “We can’t go into the mistrust mode. Dr. King’s legacy is still relevant until now. We are not there yet but we can get there together.”
Dr. Lewis described her Promised Land as a place where people of color find equal opportunities; “We should be able to keep a roof over our head, food on our tables and clothes on our bodies. The Promised Land is for everyone,” she said.
Rev. Dr. Spaulding echoed her fellow panel members, describing the Promised Land as a “state of existence where all divinity humanity is honored and respected.”
The conversation later shifted to Du Bois’s notion of double consciousness, which strictly talks about black people. They pondered the question, “If applied to other marginalized groups, would it be a form of culture appropriation, especially in terms of Dr. King’s legacy and if this legacy was inclusive for other marginalized groups?”
Dr. Spaulding drew from Dr. King’s speech that “injustice anywhere is a threat for justice everywhere,” enforcing that Dr. King’s legacy was inclusive to everyone and every marginalized group.
Mcpherson later stressed that “denying any group legitimacy is denying Dr. King’s humanity, because he evolved during his journey and denying us our humanity too, to exist and fight.” She emphasized that black leaders often are regarded in the binaries of either-or instead of taking the process of the leader’s evolution into consideration.
Mr. Graham later argued that Dr. King was inclusive because his campaign manager was openly gay and Dr. King did not hide that. He was inclusive of all races, classes and genders. However, Mr. Graham also considered that Dr. King sometimes focused on white supremacy specifically towards black people because of its uniqueness.
However, does that mean that black people’s issues and oppression is lost because of the expansion of the inclusivity of the resistance movement to all oppressions and people?
“Dr. King was not interested in creating the black community and the white community, but creating the human community,” Mr. Allen reiterated.
Dr. Lewis later pointed out that we have to view Dr. King in his own historical context and that he was trying to address the urgency of the moment. She later acknowledged that intersectionality is a key to address issues. She gave the example of the suffrage movement; all women were included in the fight, however, only white women ended up being granted the right to vote at that moment. Another movement of black women was needed to specifically deal with the issues of black women.
Mcpherson later stated, “Nobody is free until everybody is free,” and again emphasized community building.
The moderator later asked about the importance of having a single leader to fight for social justice. “There is never a singular black leader and the civil rights movement was not done only by Dr. King,” said Dr. Spaulding. “That’s a mythology we have negated 50 years after his death.” There is always “intersectionality in the resistance movements.”
The moderator moved on to ask what aspects of Dr. King’s legacy should be highlighted for young people and if Dr. King’s legacy is portrayed correctly by the media. “Yes, both the media and the public school curricula got it wrong,” Mcpherson answered. They often don’t portray Dr. King’s evolution. Instead, they portray him as a figurehead and not a full person. Dr. King is still a human—a human who made mistakes and that really important for people to understand.
Dr. Lewis stated that it is important for young people to reach the “mountain top” of their passion and education, as highlighted by Dr. King. She emphasized that it does not necessarily have to be a competition but everybody should have the courage and do what it takes to reach the mountaintop.
Rev. Graham emphasized the importance of education as the “bottom line” for everything that young people do.
“Don’t allow our legacy to be dictated in the month of January,” Mr. Allen said strongly. “Don’t allow our legacy to be dictated in the month of February. Don’t allow our legacy to be dictated in the month of April … What Dr. King fought for goes on for every month of the year.”
It is essential for our campus to remember Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy especially after the reception of the racist, transphobic email late March. It is important to remember that the Promised Land is far from reached. It takes work and self-awareness in every month of the year to reach that Promised Land of equality and respect. The road to the Promised Land is long, so let the white people take a moment for reflection and self-awareness, people of color take a moment of rest, in order to continue the fight for liberation.