Martin Luther King Day Speakers call for Greater Understanding

Release Date: 1/19/2006

Campus speeches and discussion examine impact of King's life and work.

CLARKSVILLE, ARK. (January 19, 2006) -- Speakers at University of the Ozarks’ Martin Luther King Day program urged Ozarks students to work towards King’s goal of a truly integrated society, seeing beyond racial differences and understanding the role of race in American history.

Dr. Charles Robinson, a professor of history at the University of Arkansas, where he is also director of the university’s African American studies program, spoke vividly and passionately about the changes in race relations in the United States since slavery.

“This is what America has moved from,” said Robinson, who took the audience in Rowntree Recital Hall on a gripping tour through the era of lynchings and Jim Crow laws, as well as the Civil Rights Era and its aftermath.

Despite all the progress, however, Robinson said King’s dream has not been fully realized.

“Can we really say race does not matter?” said Robinson from the Rowntree stage. “The fact that we have to talk about it proves we are not living (King’s) dream.”

Robinson said he still sees self-segregation on the part of all races, in terms of living and socializing only with those of their same race, and encouraged Ozarks students to get to know someone of a different race, pointing out that he has his students interview another student of a different race for a class assignment.

A similar theme was sounded by Patrick Baker, an Ozarks alumnus from the class of 1985 and vice president of the Clarksville School Board, who encouraged students to “Find out about people yourself. …By spending time with them. Find out who they are.”

His voice swelled with emotion as he told the audience of a lesson he carried from his mother since he was a child.

“She told me never to look at the color of a person’s skin,” said Baker. “It’s what’s inside that counts.”

In a lively discussion, students peppered the speakers with questions about everything from the effects of poverty to historical forces that have impacted African Americans.

Dr. Steven Oatis, professor of American history at Ozarks, said students interested in some of the issues raised during the Civil Rights era should learn a little more about the lesser-known aspects of King’s life, pointing out that King protested against segregation not just in the South but also in other parts of the United States, and “Not just against racial injustice, but against economic injustice as well.”

Robinson encouraged those with questions to study the history behind race relations in the United States. He added that students should not hesitate to speak up and disseminate their knowledge to others.

“I encourage you all to learn more about the racial dynamics – and other dynamics – in American History,” said Robinson.