Remembering Dr. King

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[autop] In 1964, at age 35, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the youngest man to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Between 1957 and 1968, the internationally known Civil Rights activist travelled more than six million miles to speak nearly 2,500 times. He was, inarguably, a rousing public figure.

“Most importantly, he was a human being,” Brian Behnken said. “He was an inspiring figure, but he knew his limitations.”

Brain Behnken, history professor, focuses his research on 20th century African American and Mexican American history.

On Monday the nation will celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. King. Iowa State University is hosting several lectures, discussions and presentations, which will continue through the first week of February to observe the holiday, as well as Black History Month.

Behnken, an associate professor of history who focuses on 20th century African American and Mexican American history, lead a discussion at one of those events following a showing of the PBS documentary, “Slavery by Another Name.”

The documentary is part of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)’s Bridging Cultures initiative, Created Equal, which encourages communities across the country to revisit the history of civil rights in America and to reflect on the ideals of freedom and equality that have helped bridge deep racial and cultural divides in our civic life. Four documentary films, spanning the period from the 1830s to the 1960s, are the centerpiece for this project.

"Slavery by Another Name" spans eight decades – from 1865 to 1945 – and highlights the forced, unpaid labor, affecting mostly southern black men, that lasted until World War II.

“You think you know what happened, but the truth is stranger than fiction,” Behnken said of the smear in America’s history that is widely unknown and misunderstood.

The film tells the stories of men who were charged with crimes such as vagrancy or peonage – but often guilty of nothing – who were arrested, imprisoned, and too poor to pay the enormous fines. So they where forced into “convict labor” to pay off the fine, where they were abused and subject to sometimes-deadly working conditions.

Behnken explains that slavery did not end after the Civil War. It didn’t end in 1863, when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, either. Once slaves were “free,” industrialists were not able to pay for labor so they replaced slaves with convicts. Many worked in coalmines, filled with disease, filthy standing water and poisonous gas. Many times, the same means of abuse they experienced as slaves – whipping, shackled in chains, and other forms of torture – were the norm.

    Discuss Dr. King's legacy at ISU's free lecture series. Events continue through Feb. 3 and are free and open to the public.

This was a prelude to a possible war on race, and there was an escalating period of violence as the mortality rates rose under poor working conditions. When the 1954 Brown vs. Board decision declared segregation in public schools illegal, the modern civil rights movement was set into motion, with Dr. King at the helm.

“Dr. King was key because he knew how important it was to remain non-violent,” Behnken said. “It wasn’t easy. Fighting back is as American as apple pie. But he was a militant observer of non-violence. He realized, ‘If we were going to be successful, we can’t start a race war. We’ll lose.’”

Through Feb. 3, ISU will host a series of events in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Legacy Series. The events are all free and open to the public, and will encourage more discussion about the role of his activism – along with many others – and how it affects us today. Behnken will lead the last event on Feb. 3, after a showing of the documentary “Freedom Riders.” [/autop]

More events [autop] Community birthday celebration 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 20, Ames Middle School (3915 Mortensen Road) Festivities at the traditional Ames community celebration include a birthday cake and a program commemorating King’s life and service. The program begins at 6:30 p.m.

Martin Luther King Jr. legacy convocation "A Loving Story: Perseverance, Change and Civil Rights" 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 23, Memorial Union Sun Room Celebrate King’s legacy and learn how his global vision for equality still is relevant today. The program features "The Loving Story," a documentary about interracial marriage in the United States, with a panel discussion following. The Advancing One Community Awards also will be presented. The awards recognize the recipients’ efforts to create an inclusive university community that embraces justice and equity.

"The History of White People" presentation by Nell Irvin Painter 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 29, Memorial Union Great Hall Nell Irvin Painter is the Edwards Professor of American History, Emerita, at Princeton University and author of "The History of White People," "Creating Black Americans" and "Southern History Across the Color Line." Painter earned her doctorate in history from Harvard University and has held fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the American Antiquarian Society.

"Freedom Riders" documentary and discussion 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 3, Memorial Union South Ballroom This documentary tells the powerful and inspirational story of six months in 1961 when the Freedom Rides, a pivotal moment in the long Civil Rights struggle, redefined America. More than 400 black and white Americans risked their lives — and many endured savage beatings and imprisonment — for simply traveling together on buses and trains through the Deep South. Deliberately violating Jim Crow laws, the Freedom Riders met bitter racism and mob violence along the way, sorely testing their belief in nonviolent activism. Following the documentary, Brian Behnken, associate professor of history, will lead a discussion. [/autop]

[story_footer author="Jess Guess" read_more="alumni"]