Over 100 students gathered in Commonwealth Auditorium Wednesday, Jan. 28 for the Center for Student Diversity and Black Law Students Association’s annual commemoration of the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
This year, the keynote speaker was Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, host of HuffPost Live, professor of African American studies at Morehouse College and a political commentator for FoxNews, CNN and BET. His hour-long remarks, which were entitled “The Dream: Post-Ferguson,” were his own reflections on the manifestation of King’s “dream” and its connection to the Civil Rights Movement, President Obama’s election and the events of Ferguson, Mo. Administrators Dr. Vernon Hurte, Margie Cook and Vice President for Student Affairs Ginger Ambler ’88 Ph.D. ’06 were in attendance.
“Dr. Marc Lamont Hill was the perfect person to speak to these young people and talk about our stake in the social justice movement,” Symposium Chair of the Black Law Students Association Belema Idoniboye J.D. ’15 said. “At times, there are cultural misunderstandings — deep-seeded sentiments that come from ignorance — so I think there is a responsibility to educate those who are unaware of the hurt or harm that can come from being culturally insensitive. Dialogues go on all the time at the College of William and Mary, and it’s vital to our community that everyone participates in that process and we do indeed become one community.”
Hill spoke of the need to remember history in the face of racism. According to Hill, the legacy of King and the Civil Rights Movement is often glorified.
“You can’t find a person now who doesn’t love Dr. King. … When Martin King [died] in 1968 on April 4, he wasn’t celebrated,” Hill said. “Right now, every white person loves him; every black person loves him. It’s amazing how loved he is now that he’s dead. It’s hard to imagine how he got shot, but when you look back through history … the Dr. King who died [was] an enemy of the state. The black church had pushed him out, he had been kicked out of his own Baptist convention — why? Because they said he had gone off the rails … he had gone to jail too much. King was marginal — he couldn’t get booked in a room this size. This is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. That is the King we must recover.”
Hill also reflected on how the racial climate has changed in Williamsburg since his mother grew up in the area. Upon telling her he was speaking at the College, she could not believe it.
“My mother was born in 1939 in Farmville, Virginia,” Hill said. “She said, ‘When I was growing up, I couldn’t even stand in front of William and Mary. My dad would tell us to walk past, keep our heads down, and if anybody asked us, tell them that we did not want to be integrated. We do not want to be equal’… That’s the collected memory we must hold on to as a mark of progress.”
Hill was also quick to point out the flaws in the black freedom movement, citing a lack of criticism for America’s wars after former President George W. Bush’s presidency.
“What are you willing to speak the truth for?” Hill said. “The challenge for me is the debate on my side of the aisle to stand up and say, ‘Wait a minute! We have a black freedom struggle and women remain marginal. Patriarchy is still shot through this movement,’ We have a progressive movement, yet we’re profoundly homophobic. We’re profoundly transphobic. What are we doing? 2004, I marched in D.C. with a whole bunch of folk who hated war. 2009, I couldn’t find one of them. Apparently, they just hated Bush’s war. Black folk, we’ve always been the moral conscience against war! You think a kid in Yemen feels better getting hit by a drone knowing it’s Obama’s drone and not Bush’s?”
Hill closed by reflecting on the deaths of Emmett Till and Michael Brown, and in turn asked the audience to come to terms with the history of race in this country by getting involved in order to move the dialogue forward regarding race. He asked them to “act bravely” and “speak the truth even when it’s bitter.”
“To echo Dr. Hill’s sentiment, my goal in organizing Black Lives Matter is not to start another organization, but to empower other organizations here and in the Williamsburg community. The most important thing is to get involved,” Ph.D. candidate in the American Studies Program Travis Harris said.