At this year's Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Program, journalist Roland Martin was the guest speaker. Roland Martin is the host of TV One's NewsOne Now - the first-morning news program in history to focus on politics solely from an African-American perspective. At the program, Martin told the audience that while the holiday is named after Martin Luther King, Jr., he was simply the most prominent and vocal leader of the Civil Rights Movement, but far from the only one. Martin argued that the entirety of the movement should be just as taught and celebrated seeing as Martin Luther King, Jr. would not have transformed modern American society without the thousands of movers and shakers in the Civil Rights Movement.
The Civil Rights Movement accomplished an impressive and historic amount of progress (1954-1968). The most important being the Civil Rights Act of 1964, having been signed into law nearly a century after the original act in 1866. It contained many of the same provisions and abolished the system of Jim Crow. Other historical legislation included the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (Fair Housing Act). Major Supreme Court victories included Brown vs. Board of Education (1954), which struck down segregation in public schools, overturning Plessy vs. Ferguson, and Loving vs. Virginia (1967), which legalized interracial marriage.
Roland Martin discussed the backlash the movement faced and related it to contemporary times. He argued that throughout American history, there have always been backlashes during and after periods and transitions of racial progress and social change. Martin discussed the backlash of the Civil War and abolition of slavery, the Civil Rights Movement and the end of Jim Crow, and now the presidency of the first black president and the Black Lives Matter Movement.
Martin explained how Donald Trump used coded language to scapegoat groups like blacks, Latinos, and Muslims. He pointed out that this kind of speech was a political strategy from the Civil Rights Era and told the crowd that understanding it in the context of history gives us solutions for the present.
Towards the end of the event, Martin made a call to action to young people in the audience to become actively involved in the political process and social movements. He reminded us that many of the social movements of the past that led to the progress of today were spurred on by young people, including Martin Luther King, Jr. who was twenty-six when he led the Montgomery Bus Boycott. All in all, Roland Martin's visit to Radford came at a significant and consequential time in our nation's history. He reminded us not only of the importance of history but the importance of being on the right side of history. What side will you be on?
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