50th anniversary of King’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech

Posted December 10th, 2014 by
Category: History Tags: , , , , , ,

Text of King's Nobel Prize acceptance speechToday is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Oslo, Norway on December 10, 1964. He was, at the time, the youngest person ever to receive that honor.

As the nation is embroiled in protests over the deaths of unarmed black men in Ferguson and Staten Island, let us pause for a moment to consider how much, and how little, has changed in half a century:

I accept the Nobel Prize for Peace at a moment when 22 million Negroes of the United States of America are engaged in a creative battle to end the long night of racial injustice.

I accept this award on behalf of a civil rights movement which is moving with determination and a majestic scorn for risk and danger to establish a reign of freedom and a rule of justice.

I am mindful that only yesterday in Birmingham, Alabama, our children, crying out for brotherhood, were answered with fire hoses, snarling dogs and even death.


A school built by abolitionists — and a slave trader

Posted January 20th, 2014 by
Category: History, Outreach Tags: , , ,

Perkins School for the BlindThis year, to commemorate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I was invited to speak at Perkins School for the Blind and to participate in the school’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day activities. Perkins School was founded 185 years ago as the first school for the blind in the United States, and has spent that time as a leader in innovating technology and pedagogy for educating the blind, the deafblind, and those with additional disabilities.

The students of Perkins celebrated King’s life through music and with a dramatic reading of his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. As the keynote speaker, I focused on telling the story of my family, the DeWolf slave-trading family, as we uncovered our family’s hidden past and worked to turn that history into a documentary film, Traces of the Trade. I talked about how our family’s history illustrates the much broader involvement of New England, the North, and the entire United States in slavery and the slave trade. I spoke of the ways in which so many of us in this country are tied to the history of slavery, and benefit from that history today, and about the importance of acknowledging this history, rather than finding a way to turn away from the truth or to insist that this history is really about other people, and not about ourselves.

The students were also provided a dramatic illustration of how to acknowledge this history by the school’s president, Steven M. Rothstein, through an op-ed he wrote for this occasion, which ran last week in the Boston Globe under the headline, “A school built by abolitionists — and a slaver.” In this essay, Mr. Rothstein detailed how the history of Perkins includes strong ties to progressive abolitionists—but that the school is also named for a wealthy benefactor, Thomas Handasyd Perkins, who made part of his fortune in the slave trade.

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What I hope Obama’s second inaugural will address

Posted January 21st, 2013 by
Category: Public History Tags: , , , , ,

Today marks only the second time that Inauguration Day has coincided with our national holiday commemorating the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., and on this occasion, our first black president will be taking the oath of office for the second time.

Here is what I hope the president will include in his second Inaugural Address:

This year marks the coming together of two powerful anniversaries, the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Today, 50 years after the civil rights movement and 150 years after the end of slavery, we have come a long way towards realizing the visions of Lincoln and King for a more just and inclusive society. Yet the legacies of slavery and race—the unfinished business of Civil War and civil rights—remain a crisis in our nation.

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The Emancipation Proclamation’s 150th anniversary in context

Posted January 1st, 2013 by
Category: Public History Tags: , , , ,

Emancipation ProclamationToday is the first day of 2013. This is an anniversary year that we’ve been talking about, and anticipating, for a long time here at the Tracing Center.

In 2013, we will celebrate the 50th anniversaries of major civil rights era milestones, including the March on Washington and Dr. King’s legendary “I Have a Dream” speech.

Over the coming year, the nation will also mark the 150th anniversaries of the Battle of Gettysburg and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, as well as the New York City Draft Riots (the violence of which was aimed mostly at the city’s free black population) and a host of other Civil War battles and dates.

The anniversaries of the Civil War and the civil rights movement are directly connected, as they represent two different, but closely related, stages in our society’s slow process of reckoning with its centuries-long embrace of slavery and racism. Exploring these anniversary dates, their connections, and their broader significance for racial healing and justice will constitute much of the Tracing Center’s work in the years 2013-2015.

Today, however, marks the 150th anniversary of perhaps the greatest of all of these events: Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

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