I can’t think of a better way to honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream of a more just world than with my dear friend Dr. Ellen Griffith Spears of the University of Alabama’s New College and American Studies Departments. Tonight, she was one of three people honored at the University’s Realizing the Dream Legacy Banquet.
Held three days before the national holiday remembering King and part of several events at UA honoring Dr. King, the banquet recognizes three people who help make this world a better place for others. Spears authored a book on the impact of chemicals on African American people living in Anniston, Alabama. She is also the co-author of Alabama House Joint Resolution 20, which exonerates the Scottsboro Boys of any wrongdoing.
UA student Marissa Navarro, a Grand Rapids, MI, resident, was also honored for her dedication to seeing Latino students excel in and outside the University community.
Finally, Rev. Frank Dukes, who created and led the Selective Buying Campaign of 1962, was also honored. He also co-led the Easter Sunday March of 1963, worked with and served as a bodyguard for King during his time in Birmingham and acted as the director of alumni affairs at his alma mater, Miles College.
The guest speaker was Danny Glover. The well-regarded actor recounted his experiences at San Francisco State College in 1968. There, via a multicultural community effort, he and other students shut their college down in their efforts to, among other things, see a curriculum that also reflected the history of people of African American descent.
A native of San Francisco, Glover addressed many issues including gentrification in his hometown, saying, “When does the market become a disservice to who we are as human beings?” His comments resonated as graduate students enrolled in my “Gender, Race and Urban Space” begin to tackle possible answers to such a question this semester (I met the students yesterday and was thrilled to have a good group, among them a former student in my “Bebop to Hip Hop: Music and Young America” course from Fall 2016. Always great seeing undergrads as grad students).
Glover also discussed some of the project produced by Louverture Films, a company he c-founded. The company’s name is a nod to Toussaint Louverture, leader of the Haitian Revolution.
During his talk, which was really a conversation with Rev. Joseph Scriver of Stillman College’s Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church, Glover mentioned two books worth reading. One of them was W.E.B. DuBois’ 1935 Black Reconstruction, which challenges a once prevailing view that the years immediately following the Civil War were entirely a disaster for the South and this country. DuBois highlights the roles that African Americans played in improving the quality of their own lives and the rebuilding of this country during this period. DuBois also mentioned C.L.R. James’ Black Jacobins, which essentially tells the story of the Haitian revolution.
Indeed, Glover inserts that revolution into a larger story of rebellion not just in Haiti, but in France and the United States. He pointed out how Haitian enslaved people beat the French, becoming the first independent black nation in 1804 and how Napoleon, needing money, sold land to the United States in what became known as the Louisiana Purchase.
I look forward to sharing such information with my students this semester as many of us try to find meaning in the present so we don’t make the mistakes of the past (Glover said as much while paraphrasing the words of author James Baldwin).
It was a rich evening and, again, it was wonderful to share it with Dr. Spears and her husband Brian, and other dear friends.
PS My favorite Glover film is “Grand Canyon.” I’ve used it in class. If you have not seen it and are interested in how to reach across the aisle to make this world better, check it out. The trailer is below.