Civil Rights: history and reflection

Overview of Beth Stevens lecture on Civil Rights in America.



Sarah Balough


English professor Beth Stevens talked about the civil rights movement on Jan. 22 on campus in the memory of several of its strongest supporters.

This lecture was given in context of three of civil rights movement’s activists—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., black rights martyr Medgar Wiley Evers and civil rights survivor Myrlie Evers—and President Barack Obama.

On Jan. 21, President Obama welcomed in his second term with an impassioned call for a more inclusive America—an America that rejects partisan rancor and embraced immigration reform, gay rights and the fight against climate change.

This historic day was celebrated on the birthday of a man who in 1963 led the famous March on Washington in support of economic freedom for all peoples, no matter the color of their skin. King originally started his infamous speech “I Have a Dream” speech in the context of economic freedom, dealing with the issue of the march, that of jobs and freedom.

King stood firm in his belief of the teaching of Gandhi and the writing of Henry David Thoreau that only through non-violence would the world become equal.

Of all things through, Stevens in her lecture emphasized the continual factor of equality in the world. That through the actions of individuals the nation that president Obama leads today was formed, but this world was created by individual suffering and sacrifice.

At 26, King championed the cause of Rosa Parks, the perfect face of the Montgomery bus boycotts. Three months before Parks refused to move from her seat on a public transit bus a 15-year-old girl did the same.

Due to strategic planning of the boycotts Claudette Claven is not given the praise for refusing to give up her seat, but instead the much older Parks. It was through strategy like this, non-violent protest, that enables King to succeed in the boycott and carry on to tell the nation of his dream.

A dream that was created out of not love, but justice, in the words of Martin Luther King Jr.,

“But I want to tell you this evening that it is not enough for us to talk about love, love is the pivotal point of the Christian faith. There is another side though, called justice… justice is love corrected.”

While the first African American president was sworn in to his second term on the day of King’s birthday, it was the wife of another civil rights martyr who carried out the invocation of the ceremony.

Myrlie Evers, 50 years after the murder of her husband, Medgar Wiley Evers, served as a representation of the struggle that allowed President Obama to stand beside her, preparing to be sworn in as the commander and chief for the second time.

Fifty years ago, President Robert F. Kennedy gave a speech in support of civil rights, that same nigh civil rights leader Medgar Evers was shot outside his Jackson, Mississippi home.

He was taken to a local hospital but was denied medical treatment, he died thirty minutes later. An active member in the NAACP, Evers was returning from a local civil right meeting the night of his death.

With the outbreak of World War II Evers and his brother joined the U.S military. During their time in Europe they were not seen as men of color, instead they were soldiers, they were Americans. They then returned to the same land they had left, only with higher hopes for humanity; hopes that the war would have not only changed them, but others.

During his time, Evers was an avid supporter of the right to vote. He was an insurance salesmen and as he went from house to house he would encourage people to vote.

For Evers the right to vote was crucial for the progression of the nation. But, he also knew the danger it could bring upon an African American in Mississippi. After being chased away from a voting station by an Anglo mob, Evers did everything in his power to change the view of African Americans voting. Evers is a largely unsung leader of the civil rights movement, but he was right in the words he spoke to an audience just four days before his death.

“ Freedom has never been free, I love my children and I love my wife with all my heart , and I will die gladly, if that would make a better life for them.”

On reflection of the inauguration of President Obama the world is better for all people in terms of ethnic equality, but not perfect. President Obama spoke of how America were made for this moment, a moment when immigration reform, gay rights and the fight against climate change should be seized, and will be seized, but only if it is done together.

For as Obama said in his inaugural speech,

“ While these truths may be self-evident- they have never been self-executing… For now decisions are upon us, and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate. We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years, and 40 years, and four hundred years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.”

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Civil Rights: history and reflection

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