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Celebration To Highlight MLK's Civil Rights Movement Legacy

Jan. 9, 2014
SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt

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The Sam Houston State University history department will celebrate civil rights heroes and milestones with an afternoon of presentations by local and national scholars on Thursday (Jan. 16).

The six, 30-minute discussions, from noon to 5 p.m. in Lowman Student Center Room 320, will invite members of the Bearkat and Huntsville communities to reflect upon the influence of Martin Luther King Jr. in commemoration of his birthday, on Jan. 15, and the federal recognition of his birthday on Monday (Jan. 20).

Martin Luther King Jr. Day Presentations

noon to 12:30 p.m.
"Martin Luther King Jr. and the Long Civil Rights Movement"

12:45-1:15 p.m.
"Wendell Baker: A Remembrance"

1:30-2 p.m.
"Brown v. Board of Education and Its Troubled Legacy"

2:15-2:45 p.m.
"Paul Robeson and Cold War America"

3-3:30 p.m.
"The Civil Rights Movement and the War on Poverty"

3:45-4:15 p.m.
"King's Dream in the 21st Century: A Historical Perspective"

4:15-5 p.m.

*All presentations will be in LSC Room 320

“King is the most recognized civil rights figure in American history and probably one of the most recognized global figures of the 20th century, so when we’re trying to understand the Civil Rights Movement and what it’s accomplished, he is a natural entry point into that discussion,” said Jeffrey Littlejohn, associate professor of history at SHSU.

All of the presentations stem from or are rooted in King’s influence on the Civil Rights Movement, from more radical figures such as Paul Robeson; to the war on poverty, “which King was definitely interested in;” to school desegregation, “a topic that he felt strongly about.”

“The Civil Rights Movement is an important part of our history, in making America live up to its ideals,” Littlejohn said. “King is like Lincoln in his efforts to actuate the idea that the United States was founded on, the idea that all men are created equal. It took a long time, and it’s still an unfolding experiment. The people we will be talking about are the activists who brought these ideals closer to reality.”

Beginning at noon, Littlejohn will kick off the series with a discussion on “Martin Luther King Jr. and the Long Civil Rights Movement.”

“I’m planning on playing a clip on Martin Luther King’s address at the beginning of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and talking about how King was both an inheritor and participant in the long Civil Rights Movement but also an innovator and really helped change the way the Civil Rights Movement functioned,” he said.

At 12:45 p.m., Bernadette Pruitt, associate professor of history, will remember local activist Wendell Baker, who died last year, with a heartfelt essay on his life.

“Wendell Baker was instrumental in the desegregation of Huntsville public schools and at Sam Houston State as an adviser in the mid-60s. He also was a World War II veteran,” Littlejohn said. “Dr. Pruitt will be talking about him as a person and his activism. They were friends; she spoke at his funeral, so they knew each other fairly well.”

At 1:30 p.m., Charles Ford, professor of history and department chair at Norfolk State University in Norfolk, Va., will talk about the landmark Supreme Court case Brown vs. Board of Education and “Its Troubled Legacy” in commemoration of the decision’s 60th anniversary this year.

Next, visiting assistant professor of history Lindsey Swindall will share her work on “Paul Robeson and Cold War America” beginning at 2:15 p.m. Swindall, whose area of expertise includes African American history, wrote a book on Robeson’s portrayal of “Othello,” considered his most famous role, and has also written Robeson’s biography.

“Robeson was really a Renaissance man. He was a huge guy, football all-star at Rutgers and also the valedictorian of his class; he had a law degree from Columbia; and he was just an all-around accomplished scholar; he was also a singer and starred in many major productions of plays and musicals.

“He was also caught up in the Cold War and the McCarthy attack on civil rights activists,” Littlejohn said. “Robeson was a left-wing activist, but he was targeted by the American government as a communist conspirator.”

The final two presentations include assistant professor of history Wesley Phelps, discussing “The Civil Rights Movement and the War on Poverty” at 3 p.m., followed by San Jacinto Community College faculty member Yvonne Freer, presenting “King’s Dream in the 21st Century: A Historical Perspective.”

Activities will conclude with a reception beginning at 4:15 p.m.

A sign-in sheet will be circulated after each speaker and distributed to appropriate faculty members who would like to offer credit to students in attendance.

For more information, contact Littlejohn at littlejohn@shsu.edu.



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