Martin Luther King Jr. Day's significance at UB

On January 17, 2013

  • UB is observing Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 21. King spoke at Kleinhans in Buffalo in 1967, and the photo above is taken from The Spectrum's archives of coverage of that speech. Courtesy of Hersfeld

In a sense, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed twice, according to Dr. Keith Griffler, chair and associate professor of transnational studies.

Some of the campus community is disappointed with how Americans have come to neglect what they feel is the true meaning of King's message. However, other professors and organizations feel our students and faculty are acting in the spirit of the holiday, as they commemorate King through speeches and food drives annually. Martin Luther King Jr. Day will be observed by UB on Jan. 21. No classes will be held.

"[King was killed] first as a person and second in the iconization of a leader who would not be remotely satisfied with where we are as a world today," Griffler said in an email.

King was killed on April 4, 1968 and some of Griffler's first memories regarding theCivil Rights Movement came in the years following King's assassination. A period in which "[King's] memory and legacy were still a living presence," Griffler said. The holiday brings back a sense of that presence, according to Griffler. But to be true to King's spirit, the day should commemorate the billions of people still fighting similar struggles, he said.

King's dream hasn't been fulfilled, according to William Richardson, the graduate adviser for Fight the Power and a master's student in UB's sociology department. He wishes the university community would understand that.

"Today many of us are all too willing to compromise our principles for short term gain, or to gain acceptance from the crowd," Richardson said in an email. "Looking at many of the problems that our campus, city and nation [have], a good majority of them persist not because people don't care, but because people aren't willing to speak up."

 King's dream was about our rights as individuals, not simply the black community's ability to gain positions of power, Richardson said.

King desired change - positive change - for the equality of the African American community in the United States. He fought for this cause, persuading the community through non-violent acts to secure a place for equal rights in our country.

In Nov. 1967, King came and spoke at Kleinhans Music Hall in downtown Buffalo. In his speech, he said, "I am still convinced that non-violence is the most potent weapon to an oppressed people," according to The Spectrum archives. He went on to say, "I still have faith in the future and will not yield to the politics of despair."

Richardson feels King and the day represent the "life and times of a man who gave his all for his people's freedom and that of everyone else in this nation."

King's presence is still remembered in Buffalo, in part through UB sponsored events. Each year, UB has a Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration day as part of UB's Distinguished Speakers Series. 

William Regan, director of the office of special events, said bringing in a speaker in honor of King started in the '70s as part of the minorities program.

This series aims to "address [Martin Luther King's] legacy, which we try to portray through personal contacts of Martin Luther King Jr.," Regan said.

In the past, King's daughter, Bernice King, and his son, Martin Luther King III, have spoken to the UB community. Other individuals involved in civil rights activism are also asked to speak at this event each year, according to Regan.

This year's speaker is Walter Mosley, a novelist and social commentator. He will speak at the Center for the Arts on Feb. 28. Mosely has written on the black experience in America. In his novels he demonstrates "the cultural quality of existence of African Americans for the past seven to eight decades," Regan said.

Quality of life is also on the minds of 12 UB volunteers who will be participating in The Martin Luther King Day of Service. The student-organized food drive will benefit the Food Bank of WNY, according to Baylee Richards, the graduate assistant for community engagement.

The event is Jan. 21 and run by the Service Collaborative of Western New York and the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County. Volunteers will go to Hamburg and collect canned goods at 9 a.m.

To Jessie Carter, lecturer of transnational studies, such involvement by the community is what Martin Luther King Jr. Day should represent to our students and staff.

"It's not just about Martin Luther King Jr.; there [are] so many people involved," Carter said.

But to some, like Richardson, even on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, segregation within the community is prevalent, and despite the progress we have made for civil rights, he still hopes for a day when individuals can become a nation where people are "truly equal."



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