My View: Remembering Dr. King and the Movement for Civil and Human Rights
Crawford, Vicki, St. Joseph News-Press
(CNN) -- Editor's Note: Vicki Crawford holds a Ph.D. from Emory University in American Studies, concentrating in 20th century African-American studies. Crawford is the director of the Office of the Morehouse College Martin Luther King, Jr. Collection, where she is developing campus-based programming in support of the collection.
As we approach the 26th annual Martin Luther King, Jr. observance and reflect upon the recent opening and dedication of a national memorial in King's honor, we should consider how we might engage a living legacy of the human rights leader that brings us closer to the democratic vision he so passionately embraced. A first step is to commit ourselves to teaching and learning about the civil rights movement, one of the most transformative democratic freedom struggles of modern times. Often, in schools and colleges around the nation, the movement is reduced to a few days of study and over- emphasis on a master narrative that is simplistic in its failure to interrogate the many complexities and nuanced interactions among its leaders, participants and organizations. A recent study revealed that American students have very limited knowledge of this significant period in the nation's history which continues to impact events around the globe.
Students may recognize King's "I have a Dream Speech" and know about Rosa Parks' refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus, but few would recognize King's important sermons and speeches delivered during the later years of his life. Would they comprehend King's courageous stand against the Vietnam War? What about his incisive critique of economic disparities which led him to rally to the cause of sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee? As educators, we have a responsibility to connect young people to our past; we must give them knowledge, understanding and appreciation for the triumphs and failures of this period in American history. …