2020 Martin Luther King, Jr. Employee Celebration Breakfast at Dartmouth College


– Good morning. (crowd chattering) Good morning, it’s my great
pleasure to welcome you all on behalf of the Office of Human Resources and President Hanlon. It’s wonderful to see so many of you here as we rise together to
celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I hope that you’ve been
enjoying the great food provided by the Hanover Inn, and that you are having the chance to meet some new colleagues
from across the campus. This year marks the 13th
year that we have provided this breakfast as an opportunity
for staff and faculty to come together to recognize the work and legacy of Dr. King, and also to contemplate and reflect on Dartmouth’s commitment
to diversity and inclusion, and what we can all do within
our own roles at Dartmouth, to appreciate difference
and make our work places and our community welcoming to all. Before I introduce today’s
featured speaker, Matt Delmont, I am delighted to introduce Evelynn Ellis, who is the Vice President
for Institutional Diversity and Equity at Dartmouth
College, who will perform “This is My Song.” Please join me in welcoming Evelynn Ellis, and accompanying her on
piano is Selina Noor, Dartmouth College student, Class of 2022. The song’s lyrics will be
presented on the screen behind me. Evelynn. (crowd applauding) – Good morning. – [Crowd] Good morning. – I switched the song on you. (crowd laughing) We’re not doing the anthem,
so you don’t have to stand on the third verse, but you
definitely have to sing with me. Welcome, Selina, this
is her first visit here. And I chose this song
because of the words, and as I’m singing it,
as I’ll try to annunciate as best I can, but the
words will be up there. And then the third verse you
will get to sing with me. Welcome. (“This is My Song”) ♪ This is my song ♪ ♪ O God of all the nations ♪ ♪ A song of peace ♪ ♪ For lands afar and mine ♪ ♪ This is my home ♪ ♪ The country where my heart is ♪ ♪ Here are my hopes ♪ ♪ My dreams, my holy shrine ♪ ♪ But other hearts ♪ ♪ In other lands are beating ♪ ♪ With hopes and dreams ♪ ♪ As true and high as mine ♪ ♪ My country’s skies ♪ ♪ Are bluer than the ocean ♪ ♪ And sunlight beams ♪ ♪ On clover leaf and pine ♪ ♪ But other lands ♪ ♪ Have sunlight too, and clover ♪ ♪ And skies are everywhere ♪ ♪ As blue as mine ♪ ♪ O hear my song ♪ ♪ Thy God of all the nations ♪ ♪ A song of peace ♪ ♪ For their land and for mine ♪ ♪ May truth and freedom ♪ ♪ Come to every nation ♪ ♪ May peace abound ♪ ♪ Where strife has raged so long ♪ ♪ That each may seek ♪ ♪ To love and build together ♪ ♪ A world united ♪ ♪ Righting every wrong ♪ ♪ A world united ♪ ♪ In its love for freedom ♪ ♪ Proclaiming peace ♪ ♪ Together in one song ♪ (crowd applauding) – As many of you know,
we like to have a member of the Dartmouth community
as a guest speaker. This year we have a newer
member of our community. Matt Delmont is a Sherman
Fairchild Distinguished Professor of History, born and raised
in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He earned his B.A. from
Harvard University, and worked in management
consulting and marketing before earning his M.A. and
Ph.D. from Brown University. Prior to joining the Dartmouth
faculty in January 2019, he taught at Scripps College in Claremont, California for six years, and at Arizona State
University for four years. At Arizona State University
he served as a director of the School of
Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies, leading an interdisciplinary
unit with over 80 faculty, 200 graduate students, and more than 1300 undergraduate majors. His research focuses on U.S. history, African American history, and
the history of Civil Rights. He is the author of four books, “The Nicest Kids in Town:
American Bandstand, Rock ‘n’ Roll, and the Struggle for Civil
Rights in 1950’s Philadelphia”; “Why Busing Failed: Race, Media,
and the National Resistance to School Desegregation”; “Making Roots: A Nation Captivated”; and “Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African American Newspapers”. I had to look up that word, quotidian. (crowd laughing) He has created companion
websites to extend and enhance each of these
books, and you can find links to these websites on the
Dartmouth faculty page. In addition to these books
and digital projects, he has published more than a
dozen academic journal articles and has shared his research
with popular audiences through articles, op-eds, and interviews in the New York Times,
NPR, Washington Post, the Atlantic, Slate, and
other popular venues. He’s currently working
on a new book titled, “Half-American: African
Americans Fighting World War II at Home and Abroad”, for which he was awarded
a Guggenheim Fellowship. The project is under
contract with Viking Books, and the anticipated
publication date is 2022. Please join me in welcoming today’s guest speaker, Matt Delmont. (crowd applauding) – Thank you, Scott, for
such a nice introduction, and thank you, Evelynn,
for the beautiful song to get us started. It’s a pleasure and an
opportunity to spend time with all of you this morning
on this important day. As many of you know, this is the 35th year we will be celebrating the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. That means that almost all of our students and recent alumni have never known a time when schools and communities
did not take the third Monday in January to reflect
on the life and legacy of this important Civil Rights leader. When measured how successful
the holiday has been can be found in a study that two Stanford historians conducted over a decade ago. They asked 2,000 high school students whom they considered to be a famous American,
excluding presidents. The top response, named
by two-thirds of students, was Martin Luther King, Jr. I hear this in the classroom all the time, when I teach about American history and the history of Civil Rights. I’ll mention King, and the
students will assure me they have already covered
him in high school, junior high, or even elementary school. (crowd laughing) They’ll say, “Professor Delmont,
we know that one already.” They’ll roll their eyes
and be bored with him. This presents an interesting challenge. While I’m thrilled that
King is one of the most recognized figures in American history, I worry that when many
people think of him, they only think of a
few famous quotations. Consider for example
King’s speech at the 1963 March on Washington. “I Have a Dream” is one of
the most famous speeches in American history. In the speech’s most well-known part, King said his dream is
a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. He continued, “I have a dream
that my four little children “will one day live in a nation
where they will be judged “not by the color of their skin, “but by the content of their character.” Now this is a remarkable
speech, don’t get me wrong. But in the decades since
King spoke these words, people with goals very
different from King’s have taken the sentiment
to judge not by the color of one’s skin but the
content of one’s character to argue that public
policies, laws, institutions, should not pay attention
to racial identities, and instead to abdicate
for color-blind policies that often entrench racial inequality. This requires a willful
misreading of King’s speech, and of the march on Washington. The section of King’s speech I just quoted is a small part of a much longer speech. This full speech, which
you can find online, is nearly 18 minutes long, in King’s very deliberate speaking style. If you read or listen to the speech, you’ll hear King say that
the marches have come to dramatize the shameful condition, and that black Americans are treated as exiles in their own land. He said, “We can never
be satisfied as long as “African Americans are the
victims of unspeakable horrors “or police brutality, and
that we cannot be satisfied “as long as black people
in Mississippi cannot vote, “and black people in New York
believe they have nothing “for which to vote.” The event itself was called
the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and marchers carried signs
demanding better housing, education and health
care, not color-blindness. The larger problem though,
is that when we honor King, there’s a temptation to focus
only on the most familiar and comforting parts of his life. If we focus only on his
most well-known sound bites, we end up with a very
distorted understanding of his life and the larger goals of the Civil Rights Movement. This morning I’d like to offer two solutions to this problem. The first is to remember
how this holiday came to be. So I mentioned this is the
35th year we’ve had this as a federal holiday, and I
really want us to think about what it means that we have
the holiday in front of us. We need to remember that King was a very controversial figure, and that to many Americans, honoring him with a national holiday was an outrageous idea. After 35 years it would be easy to take the holiday for granted, but if we remembered how people worked to make this day a reality, we’ll be better able
to honor King’s legacy. So we’re here this morning
because of the work of Coretta Scott King, who led the fight for the King holiday for over two decades. Born in 1927, in Marion,
Alabama, Coretta Scott excelled academically
and musically as a child. She graduated valedictorian from the segregated Lincoln High School, where she played trumpet,
piano, and sang in the chorus. Growing up in Alabama, Coretta
witnessed racial violence on numerous occasions, and as a teenager, her family’s home and father’s sawmill were burned down by white vigilantes. She attended Antioch College in Ohio, where she became politically
active in the campus NAACP, Civil Liberties Committee,
and pacifist groups. She earned a scholarship to
the New England Conservatory of Music, and it was in Boston of 1952 that she met Martin King, Jr. They were married in June of 1953, on the lawn of Coretta’s mother’s home, and the ceremony was
performed by Martin’s father. She insisted that the word obey be removed from their wedding vows. (crowd laughing) As Martin ascended as a
pastor and civil rights leader in the 1950’s, Coretta
played an important role. She’s sometimes referred to as the first lady of Civil Rights, but she’s much, much more than that. When the King’s house was bombed during the Montgomery Bus
Boycott, Coretta was home with her 10-week-old daughter, Yolanda. Her father and Martin’s father
encouraged them to leave, but she refused to flee. She said, “During the Bus
Boycott, I was tested by fire, “and I came to understand “that I was not a
breakable, crystal figurine. “I found I became stronger in a crisis.” The boycott lasted over a year, and the King’s phone rang
constantly with threatening calls. Coretta had a sense of humor and she greeted these hate calls with this sort of grim sense of humor, sometimes responding,
“My husband is asleep. “He told me to write the
name and number of anyone “who called to threaten his life, “so he could return the
call and receive it fresh “in the morning when he wakes up.” (crowd laughing) Throughout the 1950s and 60s,
Coretta advocated for peace in both domestic and
international contexts, pushing Martin to become more
vocal on global human rights. In 1965, she was the only woman to speak at an anti-war rally in New
York’s Madison Square Garden, two years before Martin’s sermon
against the war on Vietnam. When a reporter asked Martin
if he had briefed Coretta on the issue, Martin replied, “No, she educated me.” In the 15 years they were married, Martin received hundreds of death threats, and Coretta lived with the constant fear that she and their children
would one day lose him. That day arrived on April 4th, 1968, when Martin was shot and
killed in Memphis, Tennessee. In the days that followed,
Coretta traveled from Atlanta to Memphis to
retrieve her husband’s body, back to Atlanta to make
preparations for the visitations, back to Memphis to read the
marks that Martin planned, and then back to Atlanta for the funeral, all while carrying her four children, of whom she was now a single mother. And for some context it’s 400 miles between Atlanta and Memphis, longer than the distance between here, Hanover, and Philadelhpia. Now just think about that. Think about how much
courage and resolve it took for Coretta Scott King
to return to Memphis after her husband’s assassination; to meet thousands of people in a march to support sanitation workers. That’s what Martin Luther
King, Jr. was doing in Memphis at the time he was assassinated, he was leading a march
of sanitation workers and garbage men, to
demand economic rights. She told the crowd, “Martin often said, “‘Honored suffering is redemptive,
and if you give your life “to a cause in which you
believe is right and just, “and if your life comes to
an end in result of this, “then your life could not
have been lived in a more “redemptive way,’ and I think this is what “my husband has done. “But then I ask, how many men must die “before we can really have a true and free “and peaceful society? “How long will it take? “If we can catch the spirit “and the true meaning of this experience, “I believe that this
nation can be transformed “into a society of love,
of justice, and peace, “and brotherhood, where we
can all really be brothers.” That same day, just four
days after King’s death, Representative John Conyers
introduced the first bill for a federal holiday in King’s honor. So this fight had been going on that long, just four days after
King was assassinated, people were already fighting
for the King holiday. In the weeks, months,
and years that followed, Coretta Scott King led this
fight for the King holiday. The progress was slow,
excruciatingly slow. In the early 1970s,
supporters gathered petitions with millions of names to
support the King holiday. But Congress was reluctant to act. In 1975, four states, Illinois, Massachusetts,
New Jersey, and Connecticut, established state holidays honoring King. Coretta wrote city
council members, mayors, and governors across the country, urging them to pass resolutions and organize programs to
celebrate Martin’s birthday. She testified before
Congress, gave speeches, made phone calls, and basically cajoled anyone she thought who could help. She organized a coalition of 750 political, religious, labor
and civil rights groups, to lobby Congress on the King holiday. Musician Stevie Wonders
assisted by recording a song in support of the
holiday, also on YouTube, and funding an office and
small staff in Washington, D.C. to aid the lobbying effort. Finally, in August of 1983,
the House Representatives and Senate approved the King holiday bill. With Coretta looking on,
President Reagan signed the legislation into
law in November of 1983. Of course national holidays
are only a legal holiday to federal employees, so
over the next two years, Coretta visited all 50
states to encourage them to honor the national holiday, and to create some uniformity
in how it was celebrated across the country. On January 20th, 1986, nearly 20 years after Coretta started her campaigning, Martin Luther King day
was celebrated nationally for the first time. Several states, however,
refused to celebrate King day. In Arizona, voters initially
turned down the holiday, and lost chances at the Super
Bowl before subsequently voting in favor of the holiday in 1992. New Hampshire, as many of you likely know, was one of the last states
to approve the holiday. Law makers voted down bills honoring King in the late 1980s. In 1991 they approved an
optional Civil Rights Day, but made no mention of King
in the holiday’s title. Finally, after extensive organizing by all the Civil Rights advocates, law makers approved the
King holiday in 1999. It was officially celebrated
in the granite state for the first time in just 2000. Now I’ve only lived in New
Hampshire for a short time, just a year and a half, and in some ways I’m
actually glad that the state was one of the last to
approve the King holiday, because it can help us to truly don’t take the holiday for granted. When we gather on this
third Monday each January, we should thank Coretta Scott King, and all of her organizers who fought to make this holiday a reality. The second thing I’d urge us to do today is to spend time reading or listening to Martin Luther King’s words. Not just the brief sound bites, like the portion of “I
Have a Dream” speech I quoted earlier, but his longer speeches, essays, and sermons. The majority of these
are available online, or from the library, and
I’ll mention just a few here; you can consider this
your homework assignment. (crowd laughing) You might start with
“Strive Towards Freedom”, King’s 1958 memoir of the
Montgomery Bus Boycott. Published when King was just 29 years old, “Strive Towards Freedom” established King as a leading national figure
in the Civil Rights Movement. Importantly though, the Bus Boycott was much larger than King. Over 40,000 African Americans boycotted the segregated public
transit system in Montgomery for 381 one days. And again, think about that,
the amount of people it took, and the amount of resolve it
took to not use public transit, to not use buses for 381 days, over a year, to walk to work,
to get carpools to work, and the work was led
largely by black women, and I think that’s important to not leave out of the King holiday. I think we can focus sometimes too much on Martin Luther King, and not enough on the central
role African American women played in moving the
Civil Rights Movement. Eventually they were
successful in immigrating the buses in Montgomery. You could revisit King’s famous
letter from Birmingham jail. Written in response to white
religious leaders who described the Birmingham Civil Rights
Movement as unwise and untimely, this essay will remind
you that many Americans considered even the moderate,
non-violent civil rights protests that King led
to be too much, too soon. King described a sense of
urgency that made it impossible for African Americans
to wait for equality. He wrote, “For years now
I’ve heard the words wait. “It rings in the ear
of every black American “with a piercing familiarity. “This wait has almost always meant never.” He continued, “I guess
it’s easier for those “who have never felt the stinging facts “of segregation to say wait. “But when you’ve seen vicious
mobs lynch your mothers “and fathers at will, and
drown your brothers and sisters “at whim, when you’ve seen
hate-filled policeman curse, “kick, and brutalize, even
kill your black brothers “and sisters with impunity, “when you see the vast
majority of your 20 million “black brothers smothering in
an airtight cage of poverty “in the midst of affluent society, “then you’ll understand why
we find it difficult to wait.” Now if like me you have children, or nieces and nephews, King’s
letter from Birmingham jail can help explain what racism
and white supremacy looked like to young people. King described being tongue
twisted trying to explain to his six-year-old
daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that was advertised on television. Tears welled up in his daughter’s eyes when he told her that Fun Town, that was the name of the amusement park, that Fun Town is closed to black children. That being able to visit an
amusement park, skating rink, or swimming pool might seem insignificant, but these were the places
where children often learned about America’s system of Jim
Crow apartheid segregation. It can also explain that
children were active participants in the Civil Rights Movement
in Birmingham and elsewhere. Thousands of children
participated in the non-violent children’s crusade in Birmingham in 1963, some as young as six-years-old. Police sprayed the
children with water hoses, hit them with batons, and
threatened them with police dogs. Hundreds of children were
arrested and spent several days in jail, but the protests
ultimately drew national attention to the Civil Rights struggle. If you want a better
idea of why many people opposed the King holiday, why
he was such a controversial figure at the end of his life, listen to the speech he delivered at New York’s Riverside Church in 1967, called “Beyond Vietnam:
A Time to Break Silence”. Like Coretta Scott King
a couple years earlier, Martin spoke out against
the war in Vietnam. He said, “We’ve been repeatedly
faced with the cruel irony “of watching black and
white boys on TV screens “as they kill and die
together for a nation “that has been unable
to seat them together “at the same schools. “So we watch them in brutal solidarity, “burning the huts of poor villages, “but we realize that they
could hardly live together “on the same block in Chicago. “I could not be silent in the face “of such cruel manipulation of the poor. “I knew I could never again raise my voice “against the violence of the
oppressed in the ghettos, “without having first spoken
clearly to the greatest “purveyor of violence in the world today, “my own government. “For the sake of hundreds
of thousands trembling “under our violence, I cannot be silent.” This was an extremely
controversial opinion for Martin Luther King to have in 1967. A Gallup Poll found that three
quarters of white Americans had an unfavorable view of
King at the end of his life. And major newspapers and magazines editorialized against him. In his 1967 book, “Where
Do We Go From Here?”, King expanded on his
opposition to the war, how the money being spent on
Vietnam could be better spent fighting poverty in America. “Where Do We Go From Here?”
outlined King’s thinking of economic rights, and
was the spring board for launching the Poor People’s Campaign. In this campaign, which
dominated the last year of King’s life, he worked
to bring together blacks, Latino’s, Asian Americans,
Native Americans, and whites to fight to secure economic
justice for the poor. As with his anti-war views,
major newspapers argued that King’s efforts on
poverty was divisive, and the FBI tried to disrupt
Poor People’s Campaign because they believed
King was a communist. Finally, you could read
a sermon King delivered at his home church,
Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist, in February of 1968, two
months before he was killed. In the sermon titled “The
Drum Major Instinct”, King warned that the materialism
of modern American society with many people to try
to surpass each other in purchasing the fanciest
cars or the largest houses. He saw a nation of unchecked egos, in which everyone wanted
to be the drum major leading the parade. In turn, he saw this
desire to feel superior fueling racial and economic inequality. Instead of feeding their own
egos, King asked his audience to think of Jesus, and the
lesson that, “He who is greatest “among you shall be your servant.” King said, “By giving that
definition of greatness, “everybody can serve. “You don’t have to have a
college degree to serve. “You don’t have to know about
Plato or Aristotle to serve. “You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory “of relativity to serve. “You don’t have to know the
second theory of thermodynamics “in physics to serve. “You only need to have
a heart full of grace, “a soul generated by love, “and you can be that servant.” Now if you spend time with King’s words you’ll quickly remember
he was a religious leader, not a politician. He did not think strictly
in terms of election cycles, political parties, or voting blocks. For him, the stakes were
much higher than that. When he preached on “The
Drum Major Instinct”, King knew he was not long for this world. He spoke about how he
wanted to be remembered, and so I’d like to conclude
with his conclusion from that sermon. He said, “If you are around
when I have met my day, “I don’t want a long funeral. “And if you get somebody
to deliver the eulogy, “tell them not to talk too long. “Tell them not to mention that
I have a Nobel Peace Prize; “that isn’t important. “Tell them not to mention
that I have three or 400 “other awards; that’s not important. “Tell them not to mention
where I went to school. “I’d like somebody to
mention that day that “Martin Luther King, Jr. tried “to give his life serving others. “I’d like for somebody to say that day “that Martin Luther King,
Jr. tried to love somebody. “I want you to say that
day that I tried be right “on the war question. “I want you to say that day that I tried “to feed the hungry. “And I want you to be able to say that day “that I tried in my life to clothe “those who were naked. “I want you to say on that day “that I did try in my life to visit those “who are in prison. “I want you to say that I tried
to love and serve humanity. “Yes, if you want to
say I was a drum major, “say I was a drum major for justice; “say that I was a drum major for peace; “I was a drum major for righteousness; “and all those other shallow
things will not matter. “I won’t have any money to leave behind; “I won’t have the fine or
luxurious things of life “to leave behind. “But I just want to leave
a committed life behind, “and that’s all I have to say.” Thank you. (crowd applauding) – Matt, thank you for
those insightful remarks. Before we close I’d like to recognize the work of many that have contributed to this morning’s event. Please help me thank
the Hanover Inn staff, media production group,
and human resources. (crowd applauding) Additionally I’d like
to give a special thanks to Evelynn Ellis and Selina Noor for sharing their musical talents. (crowd applauding) And to Institutional Diversity
and Equity in Conference and Special Events for their leadership in arranging an amazing program of events, to celebrate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King. (crowd applauding) So I encourage each of you to look online, there’s a website right up here, to view the many and inspiring events that will be taking place
over the next few weeks, and with that I hope you
enjoyed your breakfast. Have a great day. (crowd applauding)

About the author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *