The History Department and Associate professor of History, Dr. Melissa Ford, will be hosting a panel about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, “I Have a Dream” speech and his work beyond on February 19 in the Smith Student Center Theater during common hour.
Ford is in her second year of teaching at Slippery Rock University, specializes in African American studies and is the advisor for Phi Alpha Theta, the history honorary society on campus.
Speakers on the panel will consist of Dr. Ford, Mohamed Manfond, a junior secondary education major with expertise in Dr. King, and Dr. Abdou Jallow from the School of Business. Kennedy Moore, SGA President of Diversity and Inclusion will moderate the panel. Ford says that the inspiration for this panel was to celebrate Dr. King’s work, but at the same time, educate Slippery Rock community about what MLK was beyond his “I Have a Dream” speech.
“It is such a shame, because while it is a remarkable, iconic, American speech and has wonderful imagery, it is such a small part of who he was as a man and an activist, as a religious leader, as a thinker, and as an American,” Ford said.
Dr. King didn’t just disappear after his speech, Ford said, he continued working and struggling against racial injustice in both the South and North.
“The struggle for racial injustice wasn’t just in the United States, it was a struggle for humanity,” Ford said.
One of the things Ford is specifically going to talk about is Dr. King and his opposition to the Vietnam War along with other panel members touching on the issues of what MLK Jr.’s faith meant to him, his teachings, and fielding questions.
The panel is also inspired by a trend among historians of Black history, Ford said.
“These historians explore the more radical side of [MLK, jr.’s] ideas that we forget about but can still direct us toward issues that are relevant today,” Ford said.
One idea Ford wants people to come away with is what one scholar has called “Santa Clausification,” which is making MLK, jr. seem to be Santa Clause and universally loved.
“King wasn’t always this universally beloved character,” Ford said. “He was stabbed, beaten, assassinated, and people hated him. Racists hated him, white liberals hated him. It’s a horrible inaccuracy to say that King was a saint of the 1960’s when really the glorifying of him doesn’t come around until the 1990’s and 2000’s.”
Ford said that one of the goals for this panel is to expose the multi layers of Dr. King: his teaching, his career and his remarkable life. Ford hopes that people come away with the realization that Dr. King’s ideas were controversial and not well received in the past.
“The idea that King’s dream is still unfulfilled […] also gives us, hopefully, inspiration, hope, and aspiration to continue,” Ford said.
Ford said that King is still a big part of us today because he looked at issues of housing among the urban poor, education, unemployment and poverty.
“Those are issues we still have today,” Ford said. “King wouldn’t turn his eye to that, he would still be very much concerned.”