On Jan. 20, the University of Dallas celebrated Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day with a symposium in the Art History Auditorium.
Attendance was high – with over 100 audience members – and many stood in the back of the auditorium.
Distinguished Southern Methodist University professor of literature Dr. Darryl Byron Dickson-Carr; UD professors Dr. Susan Hanssen and Dr. David Upham; and School of Ministry Alumna Lari Newman-Williams, discussed Dr. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”
The symposium included the presentation, “The ‘Birthright of Freedom:’ Reading ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’ in Light of #BlackLivesMatter and Missouri,” by Dickson-Carr.
Dickson-Carr is the author of several books about the African-American literary genre, including works about the Harlem Renaissance, the Great Depression and contemporary fiction.
“Professor Dickson-Carr provided the historical background to the letter, then did an analysis of its argument and rhetoric, focusing especially on Dr. King’s four-step process for responding to injustice, a process Dickson-Carr then used to reflect on the Black Lives Matter movement,” Dr. Scott Crider, associate dean of Constantin College, said.
Junior Holden Berg attended the symposium and said that Dickson-Carr’s presentation encouraged citizens to continue the civil rights movement.
“He said it’s important to continue the civil rights movement because there is still a struggle to make sure that racial discrimination is not present in this country, but he also advocated for a better way of doing things, as Martin Luther King Jr. did,” Berg said.
Hanssen’s response was a summary of the historical events surrounding the crafting of the document, as well as a discussion of the natural law clause in relation to protecting the rights of the unborn.
Newman-Williams’ response discussed the pastoral implications of the letter.
In reply, Upham asked political and philosophical discussion questions, mostly about how to peacefully and successfully continue the civil rights struggle.
“Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is a part of the Core and, as Crider explains, a valuable one.
“Dr. King’s letter is a great work arising out of the traditions of the West — classical, Christian and American — that informed his own historically important work on behalf of his country,” Crider said. “Like every great work, it has new work to do.”
Crider also stated that the event was evidence for the utility and necessity of the UD Core.
“The reading, presentations and discussion proved like all the best UD events that the Core is a living tradition,” Crider said.
Michael Obegolu, a junior originally from Nigeria, said Dr. King’s universal message is especially important in the Catholic community.
“[Like Martin Luther King Jr.] I think and hope that people at UD, especially being Catholic and Catholic being universal, stand for not just our kind but for the whole world,” Obegolu said. “As Christians that’s what we’re called to do. As a nation that’s what we’re called to.”
Obegolu also stated that recent racial division is not just a problem for African-Americans, but a problem for all Americans.
“Some people think the issue of racial tension is a problem just for individuals [of minorities] but we need to come together to solve this, regardless of where we come from,” Obegolu said. “I’m from Nigeria. I don’t look at it from a black or white perspective but from a human perspective. You have Muslims facing persecution. You have immigrant discrimination. It’s not a black issue. African-Americans have been here a long time, and I feel they ought to get something better. The things that are happening around this country shouldn’t be happening.”
The symposium was held in conjunction with the M.L.K. display in the William A. Blakely Library.
The display exhibits a timeline of major events during the civil rights era featuring books from and about that time, including books written by Dr. King and an original copy of Life Magazine’s March 1965 issue.
Although UD has not officially celebrated M.L.K. day in the past, since its opening in 1956, it has been an integrated university – the first integrated university in Texas.
“I was surprised [to hear that,]” Obegolu said. “It’s a good thing for UD. It’s a great legacy to have in regards to what was going on during the civil rights movement with segregation. For UD to be one of those schools is something truly good for us.”