In 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a speech at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, called “The Other America.” More than 50 years later, this title became the theme of the 22nd annual Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Observance and Sunrise Celebration at the 2021 Midwinter Virtual held on January 25.
Drawing parallels between the 1967 speech and the current realities of a divided America, the event’s cochair, LaJuan Pringle, cited in his introduction the tumultuousness of the previous year, including a global pandemic, increasing awareness of police brutality, and an economic crisis. Pringle, who is manager of Charlotte Mecklenburg (N.C.) Library’s West Boulevard branch, also paid tribute to the late civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis, who died July 17.
While attendees of the annual in-person event typically stand to sing “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing”—popularly known as the Black national anthem—this year it was presented to the nearly 1,200 attendees by the Stanford Talisman Alumni Virtual Choir, the university’s a cappella group, in a moving performance.
Environmental and racial justice
Keynoting was V. P. Franklin, distinguished professor emeritus of history and education at University of California, Riverside, and author of the upcoming The Young Crusaders: The Untold Story of the Children and Teenagers Who Galvanized the Civil Rights Movement (Beacon Press, 2021).
Franklin said that today’s movements for environmental and social justice can learn much from the activism of the 1950s and 1960s. His new book, he said, not only looks at parent- and adult-led efforts to integrate schools and improve the physical conditions of underfunded and overcrowded public schools, but it also highlights the activism and enthusiasm of youth-led efforts to improve education. Many of these civil rights campaigns “were successful because these children and teenagers participated,” Franklin said. He suggested that young crusaders today “can look to the young crusaders of the past” in how they handled “their demands for freedom and inclusion in the institutions of American society.”
“There is a strong need to introduce reparatory justice into the objectives of young people,” said Franklin, adding that they are being “subjected to the deteriorating conditions of the environment and the racial inequities and violence that children and teenagers of color experience.” He noted not just the effectiveness of marches, sit-ins, demonstrations, and walk-outs, but also the power of boycotts to repair social and educational conditions.
Franklin concluded that while a chant during the 1950s and 1960s was for “freedom now,” he said young crusaders of the 2020s should take a stand for the environment and a stand against racial oppression and violence with the message of “reparations now.”
Hayden’s call to action
Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden delivered this year’s call to action. She lauded the annual observance as one that provides inspiration for the new year and “allows us to come together to renew our resolve to make our work meaningful and worthy of the work of Dr. King.”
Hayden noted the “special resonance” of this year’s call to action. “It is taking place in a time that has challenged us all in so many ways,” she said. “A time that has emphasized the need for libraries to continue to be beacons of hope and history in what Dr. King characterized as the Other America.”
Hayden said the resilience, creativity, and dedication of libraries has been critical for communities over the past year. They have “remained a resource for everyone, especially for the underserved and underrepresented”—from curbside pick-ups to hotspot checkouts to innovative virtual events and programs.
“Librarians have been called the original search engines,” Hayden said, “and feisty fighters for freedom.” She encouraged colleagues to continue to be those things at a time when “people need and depend on you to be trusted guides on the side, especially in the virtual world.”
She also encouraged library workers to:
- continue to collect and make accessible resources about current events—particularly those about health information and social justice
- connect and provide opportunities to all communities, such as those that are rural, urban, on reservations, in correctional institutions, and “wherever people need access to information and inspiration”
- call for access and equity in every format and venue
Despite the challenges, Hayden said, library workers must continue to remain the “trusted source and resource you have always been.” She concluded: “We will move forward together.”
‘We Shall Overcome’
In place of the traditional joining of hands to sing “We Shall Overcome,” the virtual session concluded with a rendition of the famous protest song performed by the New York Philharmonic.