Mission of MLK Commemoration

Geneseo's Commemoration of Martin Luther King, Jr., is guided by the following understanding of King's life and legacy.

Martin Luther King, Jr., is the most visible leader of the modern Civil Rights Movement. He came to prominence during the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott after he was drafted as a reluctant leader. In the process, he began to develop the ideas of nonviolent resistance-- as tactic and philosophy--that are closely associated with him. An effective and charismatic speaker, King was skilled at reaching multiple audiences and drawing on and synthesizing ideas from multiple traditions. Decades after his death, many of us are still moved by his words and vision. Unfortunately, however, our culture has done much to sanitize King. We have frozen him in 1963 giving his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. We forget that when King was assassinated, he was under attack for speaking publicly against the United States' role in the Vietnam war and that he was organizing an interracial Poor People's Campaign intended to bring assertive nonviolent resistance to the nation's capitol. When our political and civic leaders draw on King's words and legacy, they tend to emphasize his advocacy of nonviolence and his dream for a "color-blind" society. They ignore his later calls for affirmative action and the redistribution of wealth. They obscure his criticism of the United States as a purveyor of violence around the world.

In honoring Martin Luther King, it is important that we remember the full range of his social justice work and the ways that he evolved over the course of his life. We must also understand that King did not create the Civil Rights Movement. Rather, an extensive mass movement propelled him forward. It is really meaningless, then, to memorialize King separate from the larger struggle and the work and commitment of countless women and men. In joining people across the country in honoring King, the Geneseo community is particularly concerned with recognizing and acknowledging King's enduring commitment to social justice and to the ways that King's leadership reflects a broader tradition of struggle.

The Civil Rights Movement has been called the "Borning Struggle," the inspiration and model for the many progressive movements that emerged out of that movement. Geneseo's King Commemoration honors and acknowledges the individual contributions of Martin Luther King and the expansive movement for social justice that he was a part of and which continues today.