The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. would smile with pride over students’ nonviolent protests to combat racism at the University of Missouri in Columbia and other college campuses.
On Monday we celebrate the national holiday for the slain civil rights leader’s birthday. King, who championed nonviolent resistance to force social change, would have been 87 if he weren’t assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tenn.
King would have applauded MU graduate student Jonathan Butler’s hunger strike, refusing to eat until after MU system president Tim Wolfe resigned. King would’ve loved the black MU football players threatening a boycott of future games and the backing of head football coach Gary Pinkel and his staff.
The protests last year show students of color uniting against intolerance and the status quo. It has happened before.
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James G. Thompson, a 26-year-old African American from Wichita, in a 1942 letter to the editor of The Pittsburgh Courier, helped launch the “Double V Campaign” for victory over Adolf Hitler and the Axis powers and victory over racism and Jim Crow at home. That activism led to the civil rights movement and to white college campuses opening to black students.
Black student protests in the 1960s and 1970s led to the hiring of black faculty and administrators and the addition of black studies classes and degree programs. Despite decades of civil rights gains, integration politically and judicially has mostly been abandoned in cities and in lower grades.
Many black kids face segregation and poverty, the razor wire of low expectations in poor performing schools, racial achievement gaps and a school-to-prison pipeline with police eagerly waiting for them.
College for many students of color is an unachieveable dream. But for the few who make it, it’s where they encounter many white students who for the first time have to interact and share dorm rooms with blacks. Until college, they only “knew” African Americans through TV sports, music, entertainment or crime-filled news, sparking some intolerance.
Today’s black students who make it to college have a higher expectation of acceptance and equal treatment. They’ve also been affected by the 2014 Ferguson, Mo., police shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown and police killings of other unarmed black males nationwide. They’ve been inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.
Black baby boom students like me mostly endured the racial bigotry as part of the cost of a higher education at white universities. In an odd way, it helped prepare us for bigotry in professions that were not used to black workers.
Like King’s generation, today’s students won’t tolerate the status quo. Good for them. If black lives are to matter, then the voices of young African-Americans have to be heard and result in a meaningful change.
Being put off and ignored is what resulted in the resignations of the MU system president and the chancellor. King would applaud Mike Middleton’s appointment as interim president of the MU system.
The MU black student movement spread to college campuses nationwide. Black lives have to matter throughout the country to schools, police, government officials, faith and civic leaders, businesses and colleges and universities.
Young people also should rail against low expectations, racial achievement gaps and disparate treatment.
Their activism makes me wonder how these young graduates will transform the workplace in the jobs they take, the way they’ll vote, the elected offices they’ll hold, the pulpits they preach from and the judicial benches they’ll occupy.
American is in for more changes. It can only make these United States more inclusive and better for everyone.