|MLK Re-enactment Questions Progress|
To celebrate the 45th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's speech at Manchester University, T. Leon Williams, a professional King re-enactor, gave another speech in King's persona at the very podium where King had spoken nearly two generations ago. A first-year attending the Jan. 31 event, Mikiyas Tadesse, says the speech was “moving.” Another first-year, Benjamin Dixon, says Williams had a “powerful voice” that was reminiscent of the real King.
Before Williams spoke, Joel Eikenberry, an alumnus of Manchester who had listened to the original King speech when he was a senior, gave some remarks. He considers the speech, like his picketing the Vietnam War, a hallmark for his college years. Eikenberry quoted Charles Dickens: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” He was glad to be one of the progressive thinkers and rights advocates, but noted that the violence that came with the age was saddening. Nevertheless, he was proud to impart his knowledge with the student body.
After Eikenberry, a grainy black-and-white clip of the original King speech was played. In the clip, King humorously explained that his first greeting to Indiana was a winter storm which had waylaid his flight at South Bend. On a more serious note, he reflected that people “are constantly asking whether we have made any progress...” He concluded that although the civil rights movement had gained traction there was much more to accomplish.
Finally, Williams stepped up to the podium with King's characteristic black coat, scarf, and Southern drawl. In his speech he asked the same question that King had: has equality been reached? Williams shook his head and said, “Perhaps my ideology had cast a net too wide.” What he meant was that the equality King sought was too much to be fully achieved even today. “Although the spokes on the wheel have changed,” he said, “the axel has remained the same.”
To illustrate his point, Williams pointed out that colleges now welcome colored students but show a lack of diversity in their faculty.
He called out two myths surrounding civil rights, the first that morality is “pointless to legislate without changing the hearts of man,” the second that ethnic minorities must lift themselves out of oppression and economic depression “by their own bootstraps.” He also called for action on the economic depression among black communities, willfully asking the audience, “How can we sleep at night in a palace among caves?”
That aside, Williams and probably King himself would not want people to think that no progress has been made in civil rights. “Reconciliation is the precursor of integration,” Williams said. The time of struggling is over, now it is time to reconcile. The years of violence and protest Joel Eikenberry experienced were necessary parts of a societal revolution. Minorities are still marginalized, but the civil rights issue is much more open. In closing, Williams declared confidently, “We are walking on the other side of the mountain.”