Remembering King’s Dream

Nationwide, there were special events taking place as people, both young and old, remembered Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his relentless efforts to achieve racial equality.

Tonya Cook is the Program Specialist for Intercultural Relations at Georgia State, but two decades ago, she and several other undergraduate students wanted to voice their frustration with racial segregation by participating in what would become the university’s historical sit-in.

“It was the timing of it,” she said. “We did what we had to do. We were tired of the racial strife. We were tired of seeing certain people get away with certain things.”

Not a single act of violence oc- curred, which was one of Dr. King’s repeated beliefs – violence is never the solution.

“One of the beauties of the sit-in is that none of us was physically hurt,” Cook said. “No one physically hurt a sister or a brother. No one stopped us. We were all protective of each other.”

Cook, a student assistant for African-American student programs at the time, said that because she and several others grew tired of racial inequality on campus, students for generations to come now experience the diversity and equality they deserve.

“And we made it happen,” she said. “Now other students on campus are enjoying the fruits of the labor. And that’s where we are.”

But while Cook said Georgia State students continue to strive for peaceful and fair compromising, some faculty members wonder how many current students seriously consider civil rights.

“I’m not really sure [how] tuned in they are when it comes to civil rights history or [the] civil rights legacy,” said Thomas Jackson, Jr., a research assistant in the University Library.

Some students wonder if Dr. King’s legacy on the Georgia State campus is still alive.

“Honestly, if he hadn’t died, people probably wouldn’t have changed,” said Crystal Oake, a senior and film/communications major.

Oake said she isn’t sure a lot of students on campus, particularly African-American students, truly appreciate certain things that were once completely unavailable to them at Georgia State.

“A lot of black students do not support organizations or programs specifically for them,” she said.

Despite these beliefs, Oake said she believes that Dr. King would be very pleased with how far America has come since the Civil Rights Movement.

Other students on campus, such as Niki Asika, share this sense of divided feelings.

“I think Dr. King would be both happy and disappointed,” said the senior and history major. Asika said she believes part of the problem is the animosity that black students hold against other black students, at times for no apparent reason.

“For example, [the] light-skinned vs. dark-skinned [thing],” she said. “There is a lot of hate within the growing black community against one another that is very prevalent.”

Asika said racism has yet to be fully eliminated, one of the many challenges Dr. King faced during most of his life.

Cook recalled her own experience with racism at Georgia State as a freshman in 1986. She remembered a particular fraternity, one that she “will keep nameless,” that used to throw parties in black face makeup. “It’s like, why are they doing this? Who’s going to hold them accountable?” Cook said.

Although incidents like those were commonplace, it wasn’t until Cook and other students noticed a trash can with the derogatory words ‘niggers enter,’ on it that their frustration with the status quo reached an all-time high.

The word itself was misspelled, but the message was clear, Cook said. “That really set off a lot of things for us,” she said. “The [Georgia State] administration was very controlled at that time.”

Cook and others felt their concerns weren’t being taken seriously by school officials, setting into motion the chain of events, which led to the highly publicized sit-in of 1992.

Twenty years later, some students still express negative opinions of this post-Dr. King era. But continued progress, such as the election of America’s first African-American president, is a reoccurring reminder of America’s evolution.

Jackson, who taught African-American History at Atlanta Metropolitan College three years ago, said just because young students don’t always express interest in things like the Civil Rights Movement, doesn’t mean they’re “indifferent.”

Based on his teaching experience, Jackson said “…students are interested, [but] the key with history is you have to make it relevant with what [young students] see today.”

Dr. King’s opposition of the Vietnam War and his work with the Poor People’s Campaign shortly before his assassination are examples of events intertwined with the contemporary experiences of young people, according to Jackson.

Students like Oake and Asika, who occasionally doubt their peers, also remember leaders like Dr. King for spreading the importance of di- versity, something Georgia State em- bodies with its multitude of students from all over the world.

“I think that just the diversity of our campus [alone] has displayed many of his teachings and the plethora of organizations that accept any type of race,” Asika said.

But even in 1992, African-American students were not the only supporters of change. There were also some students from different backgrounds, Cook said.

“We [even] had some professors who were involved,” she said, although there weren’t many. Other supporters, although “behind the scenes,” included a top-administrator and a dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Cook said.

Fast-forward to present Georgia State, and Oake agreed with Asika about the campus’s diversity, commenting on the number of nonviolent protests she witnessed on cam- pus from backgrounds of every kind.

“On two different occasions I have seen students protest a hip hop artist because they did not want him to come to [Georgia State’s] homecoming,” she said. “Then I have seen grown men come to the library plaza with large signs talking about sinning and the end of the world. And police surrounded the area to make sure ev- eryone was safe.”

Even Cook, a historical figure in her own right, said she doesn’t believe that all young people should be criticized by people from older generations for not continuing Dr. King’s fight for civil rights in ways they once

had“.I don’t know if they’ve forgotten,” Cook said of young people and the belief that many of them have strayed far from the vision of Dr. King’s modern-day America. “I just don’t know if they’ve been taught.”