Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2018

I organized the second annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration at my library. You can see some video of the whole thing, thanks to participant Meghann Foster. Here are my opening remarks.

We are about to hear again the words of one of the most famous speeches in American history, a speech given on a hot August day more than fifty years ago. We often think of this speech as a culmination, but in fact it was merely a milestone along the way to a goal we have not yet achieved.

A year after Dr. King’s speech, over a thousand northern college students, including University of Iowa student Steve Smith and Shel Stromquist, who is here today, went down to Mississippi to try to register black voters. You can read more about the intimidation and harassment they faced — harassment that black Mississippians faced every day — in our display about Freedom Summer.

The voting rights for which those young people fought in the summer of 1964 would not be codified into law for another year, in the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Today we see everywhere attempts to roll back the rights that law won.

The struggle for civl rights is not over: black people today are still disproportionately poor and disproportionately in prison; people with disabilities still too often do not receive the accommodations due to them by law; LGBT people are still too often the recipients of harassment and violence; immigrants and refugees face a precarious situation when they reach our shores.

Today is a day to celebrate but it is also a day to renew our commitment to a more just world. I hope you will share your dreams with us on the paper provided on our craft table. I hope you will take pride in our diverse community by welcoming as a neighbor someone who may not look like you or live like you. I invite you to share with us how you define yourself, where you come from, what languages you speak, and what religion you practice on our poster boards. And I invite you to check out the work of the many organizations represented here today who continue in Martin Luther King’s work for peace, for the poor, and for a world free from prejudice and discrimination.

I’d like to thank the many people who made this day possible: all our readers, David McCartney at the University of Iowa Special Collections and Shel Stromquist for loaning us items for the Freedom Summer display, and many library staff members, especially Kate Dale for creating the demographic posters and Erika Binegar for helping plan the event and finding the quotations. Kate and Erika also organized our displays of diverse books for readers of all ages.

One final note before we begin: Dr. King’s speech was made many years ago, and some of its language now sounds dated to our ears. Dr. King uses Negro where we would say black or African-American; he speaks of men where we would say people and of Christianity and Judaism where we would include Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, atheism, and many more. As our understanding of human diversity expands, so does our language.

And now, without further ado, I’d like to introduce our readers: ?

Mitch Gross from the Coralville Public Library Board and the Coralville City Council
Greg Hearns from the Iowa City Federation of Labor
Meghann Foster from the Coralville City Council
Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz from the Consultation of Religious Communities
Lata D’Mello from Monsoon United Asian Women of Iowa
Rod Sullivan from the Johnson County Board of Supervisors
Shel Stromquist, UI Professor of History Emeritus and Freedom Summer veteran
Kingsley Botchway from the Iowa City Community School District Equity Department
the Reverend Bill Lovin from the Consultation of Religious Communities
Newman Abuissa from PEACE Iowa and the UI Center for Human Rights
Senator Bob Dvorsky from the Coralville Community Food Pantry
Fatima Saeed* from the Eastern Iowa Center for Worker Justice

*Fatima was unable to make it, so I ended up reader her part

Leave a Reply