In session at last, Bowdoin celebrates Martin Luther King's 73 birthday
Due to the whims of the calendar, one often finds Martin
Luther King Day at the end of Bowdoin's winter break. This year, though,
the first day of classes ended with students filling Pickard Theater to
listen to speeches and hear music commemorating what would have been the
civil rights leader's 73rd birthday.
The keynote speaker for Monday's program was Robert Johnson
'71, the head of the Africana Studies Department at the University of
Massachusetts at Boston. Johnson, whose recent scholarship has addressed
the issue of government reparations for slavery, as well as repatriation
in Africa, spoke on the parallels between present-day civil rights struggles
and those of King's time. Johnson addressed the Enron debacle, the war
in Afghanistan, and debt relief for developing nations, and argued that
King would disapprove of how the U.S. has addressed these problems. Johnson
spoke at one point of "the callous attitude of the Bush administration
towards the world." He also touched on last summer's United Nations
Conference on Racism in South Africa.
Johnson also drew connections between the life of King and
that of John Brown Russworm, Bowdoin's first black graduate, in the early
19th century. He reminded the audience that King himself had visited Brunswick
and Bowdoin in 1964, months before his reception of the Nobel Peace Prize.
A short video produced by the College included alumni anecdotes of King's
visit, in which he spoke on campus and held a discussion session with
students in Maine Lounge. "We were a college of white men with little
concern for the world around us," Steve Munger '65 said in the video,
"but gradually that changed as the next four years unfolded."
The program also included segments from the PBS documentary
Eyes on the Prize, a solo piano performance by Associate Professor
of Music Robert Greenlee, an original poem spoken by Ramona Pina '05,
and performances by the Chamber Choir.
Wil Smith '00, Coordinator of Multicultural Student Programs,
emceed Monday's event and said he was glad to see more attendance than
usual. Smith pointed out that since classes were alredy in session on
the day of the holiday, the event was placed in a larger venue than in
past years. "Bowdoin often gets a bad rap for being apathetic about
issues of race and civil rights," Smith said. "We might feel,
at times, removed." But, Smith said, the turnout and response to
Monday's event suggested otherwise.
Next week, the African-American Society will bring to campus
another famous civil rights figure. James Meredith, the first black student
to attend the University of Mississippi in 1962, will speak at Common
Hour on February 1. Meredith participated in civil rights marches throughout
the 1960s, but by the 1980s had moved toward a more conservative political
stance and worked for Republican North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms from
1989 to 1991.
Kijan Bloomfield, president of the African-American Society,
said that a member from Mississippi knew Meredith, who expressed an interest
in speaking at Bowdoin. Other events in February, National Black History
Month, include the semiformal Ebony Ball on February 16 and the Black
Arts Festival on February 21.