MLK Day Sparks Conversation on Modern Civil Rights

History Professor Mark Sawin and Seminary Assistant Professor of History and Mission David Evans hosted a chapel talk-back last Friday.

History Professor Mark Sawin and Seminary Assistant Professor of History and Mission David Evans hosted a chapel talk-back last Friday.

Campus celebrated Martin Luther King Day with a bevy of activities, highlighted by chapel lectures given by professors Mark Sawin on Wednesday, Jan.15, and David Evans on Friday, Jan. 17. The talk by Sawin was followed by a “mix it up” lunch to allow for discussion, while the talk by Evans was followed by a brief discussion period held in Martin Chapel.

Both chapel lectures focused on specific angles of the Civil Rights Movement legacy, and both speakers attempted to bring it into the present day. Sawin spoke of EMU’s history in regards to civil rights by highlight- ing notable historical figures in EMU’s struggles with the movement. The lecture ended with Sawin highlighting the life of Titus Bender, who began the week by speaking in chapel. Bender was an early civil rights advocate at EMU who was eventually embraced for his call for racial equality, but pushed away from the Mennonite community when he became an advocate for homosexual rights.

Students recognized this emphasis on fighting for different kinds of equality. Senior Jacob Wheeler said of Sawin’s lecture, “I think I liked it; I liked the conversation that it sparked later.” This attitude was echoed by Senior Jordan Luther who asserted, “My bias is that it was important. We want to think about civil rights in terms of all people whether it is by race, religion, or sexuality. I like the conversation that it inspires.”

That conversation was on display later during the mix it up lunch in the cafeteria, which drew students and faculty as well as seminary students. Wheeler said that conversation at this lunch focused around how the Mennonite Church is dealing with both race and sexuality.

On Friday, David Evans kept the discussion rolling with a focus on civil rights in a talk titled, “A Domesticated King.” Evans, a seminary professor of history and mission, used his lecture to emphasize King’s humanness, pointing out that King was a man and not a saint. Evans claimed that our conception of King as a larger than life figure stops us from emulating his example and striving to create change. He also asserted that King believed in broad social change, a fact that is mitigated by what Evans called, “King’s domesticated image.”

Luther appreciated Evans’ lecture, saying, “I thought that it was important to hear David Evans talk about a more confrontational King, a King bent toward justice… to me, MLK day is about remembering his legacy while creating our own.”

Luther also participated in the talk back section held after chapel, which continued to turn over the points which Evans raised. According to Beth Lehman, one of the organizers for MLK week, Sawin and Evans were meant to stimulate discussion. Said Lehman, “We considered bringing in a keynote speaker, but the more we talked about it, we recognized that there was a lot of knowledge on campus and decided to tap it…. We wanted to tie MLK day directly to EMU and use that to create discussion.”

According to Lehman, the lectures by Sawin and Evans, which are available as podcasts through the EMU website, were meant to stimulate “an ongoing campus discussion.” The week will culminate with a final chance for students to participate in a discussion tonight, but Lehman expressed hope that the points raised by Sawin and Evans will continue to create discourse after this week’s events have concluded.

-David Yoder, Co-Editor In Chief; photo, Ellen Roth

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