On April 4, 1968, African-American civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed outside of his hotel room in Memphis, Tennessee.
In honor of Martin Luther King Day, students and professors organized events throughout the week to continue spreading King’s message of social equality and to bring attention to racial discrimination – an issue that many Ohio Wesleyan University students and faculty members believe is present today.
OWU organizations including Black Men of the Future (BMF) sponsored events in remembrance of MLK.
BMF organized an event in honor of King, which occurred in Hamilton-Williams Campus Center at lunch hour.
“We organize an event every year to commemorate MLK and his contributions to the quest for racial equality,” said senior Lucky Mosola, BMF President.
“…This year we performed an excerpt from MLK’s Letter From Birmingham Jail; ‘I, Too,’ a poem by Langston Hughes, and an original piece by myself about MLK and his Birmingham Campaign.”
Several other events hosted throughout the week were not only for OWU students, but the Delaware community as well.
An annual breakfast was held Monday morning at 8 a.m. in Benes Room B in honor of Dr. King. That evening, a screening of clips from “Freedom Riders” was shown in Beeghly Library’s Bayley Room at 7 p.m.
The “Freedom Riders” screening – about civil rights activists who challenged segregation in interstate busing – was followed by a discussion guided by Dr. Hasan Jeffries, associate professor of history at Ohio State University.
Jeffries showed three clips from the documentary, which was created by PBS as part of its American Experience series.
They involved interviews of those involved, re-enactments of some sequences, and photos and newsreels of the actual events.
Those who went on the 1961 Freedom Rides faced beatings from Ku Klux Klansmen and other white supremacists, sometimes with the approval of local law enforcement officers, while the federal government tried to convince them not to challenge the segregated system.
When they weren’t beaten, many riders were jailed in Parchman Penitentiary, but this backfired on supporters of segregation.
Their time in prison only increased the riders’ commitment to ending segregation, and made them better organized.
During the discussion Jeffries asked how many audience members would have been willing to go on the buses and risk their lives; only one person raised her hand.
On Thursday, a screening of the documentary “White Like Me” was shown in Benes Room B. The documentary is based off anti-racism activist Tim Wise’s book.
The documentary reflected on white privilege, discrimination and how many people think racism was solved decades ago, it is still a prominent issue in today’s society.
After the film, Sociology and Anthropology professor Dr. Paul Dean asked audience members to share their opinions on racism at Ohio Wesleyan and if they believe racial discrimination is still a prominent issue in the U.S.
In a question and answer section following the screening, some students who attended questioned why more did not.
Jim Mendenhall, ‘73, also attended the screening and said he thought it would have been nice to have more faculty and administration staff present.
“I think that racism is still a large issue in the United States,” said freshman McKenna Brewer, secretary of Sisters United.
“The fight for racial equality is not over, it continues every hour of every day.”
Sisters United and Black Men of the Future are both umbrella organizations of the Student Union on Black Awareness, which was founded in 1968 – the year of King’s assassination – to provide a voice for students of color on campus.
Mosola also expressed concerns about racism in modern society, stating that while racism may not be blatant, it does still exist.
“Racism is still a huge problem, but the nature of it has changed,” Mosola said. “(Now it’s) much more has to do with expectations, stereotypes, and institutional advantage (and) discrimination.
“There is still a long way to go, but changing how a culture thinks takes time. I think that with younger generations it will continue to improve in our lifetime.”