The Collegian
Saturday, May 18, 2024

The Rev. James Lawson spoke true to King's legacy

In my three and a half years as a student at the University of Richmond, I have never, until now, felt compelled to write into the opinion section.

Congratulations, Paul Negrin. You were on the mark when you observed that Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a day to commemorate the legacy of one of America's finest citizens. Unfortunately, that was about the only thing you got right. You missed entirely that the Rev. James Lawson's speech did in fact do justice to the day — it did honor and pay tribute to a great man. Moreover, Martin Luther King Jr. Day pays tribute not just to a man, but also to a movement — a powerful, courageous movement rooted in, yes, nonviolent protest.

If you want to read personal anecdotes about Dr. King, I am sure there are plenty of biographies in Boatwright Memorial Library available for just that, but it saddens me to think that out of a man who stood beside King and fought with him, you only wanted to hear stories. I went to the ceremony to hear more, to be inspired.

It is unfortunate that you could not see beyond your disagreement with the reverend's political stance on the current War in Iraq to find the immeasurable wealth of his words. Lawson's message remained in step with the civil rights movement of which King was such a vital part < a movement that was also politically controversial.

Don't agree? Dr. King was a very vocal opponent against the war in Vietnam. On April 4, 1967, he announced: "A time comes when silence is betrayal. That time has come for us in relation to Vietnam." Later in the same speech, he went on to hope that someday, "a true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war, 'This way of settling differences is not just.'" So, while this is purely speculation, I submit that whether or not Martin Luther King Jr. would disagree with the current War in Iraq (and by the way, most Americans do), I believe he would have been proud of his close colleague's speech.

Your final words, Mr. Negrin, were that you hoped next year's speaker would "stay on topic and speak only of Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy. Dr. King's memory deserves no less." With all due respect, Mr. Negrin, the reverend did just that. It seems to me, though, that maybe it was not Lawson's speech that you had a problem with, after all. Maybe, just maybe, your problem was with the idea of civil liberties (such as freedom of speech) and utilizing these freedoms to create a more equitable and just society. And that, Mr. Negrin, does not qualify you to speak intelligently about what Dr. King's memory deserves. And, for those who value justice, it should represent a very, very scary proposition.

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