Martin Luther King speaker series
By Lou Fancher
Reviewing history to explain how a racially divided United States might move from chaos to community, Stanford University professor and Martin Luther King, Jr. scholar Clayborne Carson said Saturday that young people and women played pivotal roles in the Civil Rights movement -- and could again.
Selected by the late Coretta Scott King to edit and publish King's papers, Carson has produced six of a projected 14-volume edition under the auspices of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute he founded at Stanford. Speaking at the Barbara Lee and Elihu Harris Lecture Series at Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland, Carson said his exploration of the events of the 1950s and 60s as a participant in the movement and someone who admired but never idolized King, has led him to surprising, not often-heard perspectives.
"Rosa Parks wasn't waiting for a telephone call from Martin Luther King on that bus. She did what she did. And then that forced Martin Luther King to be who he was," Carson said.
Furthermore, Carson said that the civil rights "from the bottom up" movement meant that people -- and largely, women -- began the sit ins, boycotts, marches and other organized, nonviolent protests. "It was women who led the movement," he said.
"What we need to do as we look to the future is to rethink how we look at Martin Luther King," Carson said. "His agenda cannot be categorized as a civil rights agenda. His mission was to combat unemployment, slums, economic insecurity. Those issues are still there."
Produced by The Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center and Merritt College, the event included a presentation by Clarence B. Jones, who served as legal counsel and speechwriter for King, along with comments from Congresswoman Lee, former Oakland Mayor Harris and rousing introductions from three youth members of the Freedom Center.
One of them, Andres Bustamante, set the night's tone with a four-step lesson he's learned while "lighting a spark" for social justice as a participant in the organization: "Give a greeting, give thanks, state a belief, state it with your leadership and culture."
Carson's belief that King is a symbol of a movement larger than the activism that led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 came with a caveat: casting King as only concerned with racial injustice seriously understates the leader's overriding dedication to issues of poverty and war, he said.
As a young person Carson thought King was too cautious. "Far from a leader, I thought he was followingus," he said. But his understanding and appreciation has grown.
Similarly, Jones turned down a job offer when the civil rights leader came to his Southern California home in 1960 seeking black lawyers. Jones said he was an entertainment lawyer and wanted to keep his convertible, swimming pool, and "living large" lifestyle. But after hearing King's speech on the responsibility of African-American professionals to help others less fortunate, Jones changed his mind.
Sharing anecdotes from their time together, he said King was "the 20th century's apostle of non-violence." To reach King's "beloved community," Jones said would require moving beyond asking or begging for civil rights. Voting, he said, is the best way to honor King and other leaders who gave their lives in hopes that the Black Lives Matter movement would never be necessary.
"Vote," Jones said. "The time of beseeching is over."