Members of the Knox College community, along with open house visitors, honored the life and legacy of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the King Day 2019 Winter Term Convocation on January 21.
In a keynote speech, “Martin Luther King for the 21st Century,” Knox faculty member Konrad Hamilton (pictured above) encouraged everyone in the audience to focus on being active, engaged citizens.
King Day “is the day that our campus joins with the larger Galesburg community and the rest of the country to honor the contribution of Dr. Martin Luther King to American democracy and human freedom around the world,” said Hamilton, who holds the Burkhardt Distinguished Chair in History. “In doing so, we reaffirm our commitment at the beginning of each new year to work toward the diverse and inclusive, beloved community that Dr. King envisioned.”
Racism and inequality still exist in society, Hamilton noted, so it’s sometimes easy to lose heart and to question whether political activism actually works. But it’s important to keep perspective, he said, adding: “Do we really believe that our lives today are no better than those who lived before the Civil Rights Movement?”
The main reason why a national holiday was established to honor King “is because he showed us how to be better citizens,” Hamilton said. “Citizenship implies and requires a commitment to those other than ourselves. It carries with it the responsibility to help in correcting problems, not just pointing them out for others to fix.”
“Rev. King understood that social change does not come from politicians riding in on white horses,” Hamilton added. Rather, politicians and political structures respond to “steady grassroots pressure from citizens,” he said. King’s method—nonviolent, direct action—was “a way for ordinary citizens to have an impact upon the things that they cared about.”
King likely would embrace the use of social media and other new technologies in modern-day social activism, though he would insist that people use them “to fashion and test out specific solutions,” not merely to register complaints, said Hamilton.
He urged people in the audience to identify as citizens and to remain steadfast in the pursuit of their values. “We work for the beloved community, not because there's some guarantee of an easy victory,” Hamilton said. “We work for the beloved community because of who we are and who we wish to remain.”
The King Day Convocation also included welcoming remarks from College Provost and Dean of the College Garikai Campbell, who called on the audience to “celebrate the full breadth of [King’s] thinking, his work, and his contributions,” and from President Teresa Amott.
“Every year, at this time, I go back to Dr. King's writings, and every year, I find some new and important set of observations and reflections that are of deep and sometimes fierce relevance to the current moment,” said President Amott.
Music and poetry also were featured as part of the Convocation.
The Knox College Choir performed “Precious Lord,” which Choir Director and Professor of Music Laura Lane described as one of King’s favorite songs.
Professor of Africana Studies Fred L. Hord read his poem “Tent Cities and Leaning Towers,” and students Katrina White '19, Chava Solberg '19, and Francesca Downs '19 read from the works of other poets.