Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium panelists discuss research, activism

Tufts held the annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Symposium, this year titled “On the Right Side of the World Revolution,” on Wednesday evening in Breed Memorial Hall. The symposium’s panelists discussed their respective works and answered questions from the audience focusing on this year’s theme, “Local Movements and Global Visions.”

The panel discussion was preceded by opening remarks from University Chaplain ad interim Jennifer Howe Peace and University President Anthony Monaco, as well as presentations by students on their own family histories.

Panel moderator Dr. Kerri Greenidge, a lecturer in American Studies and co-director of the African-American Trail Project, introduced the panel discussion by recalling the often incomplete history of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his 1967 speech at Riverside Church in New York City upon which the theme of the panel was based.

“This history is important because it forces us to resist turning King into a hashtag or mistaking social justice activism for an ahistorical, apolitical endeavor divorced from the intellectual traditions from which such activism emerges,” Greenidge said.

The panel was composed of Dr. Seth Markle (LA’00), a Trinity College professor of history and international studies, Hope Wollensack (LA’11), a political organizer and researcher and History and Africana Studies major Desmond Fonseca.

Fonseca, a senior, addressed the topic of the panel first, referencing his research in Angolan struggles for independence to situate King in a context not commonly associated with him in mainstream conversation today.

“Dr. King drew criticism for his regular attempt to mix civil rights with his anti-war message … issues within the U. S., issues outside the U. S.,” Fonseca said. “In that regard, I think the beauty of Martin Luther King is not his exceptionalism in black radical politics, but his role within it.”

Fonseca added that the ideological differences between various civil rights and black power movement leaders did not necessarily indicate dissonance between their ultimate objectives.

“The international black radicals poked and prodded with each other and over strategies to liberation,” Fonseca said. “But the best of them were unrelenting in their commitment to eliminating what Dr. King called the triple evils of global and U. S. based racism, militarism and materialism.”

Wollensack drew upon her experience in voter registration organizing to evaluate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s ideological legacy as well as his legacy in activism.

“Obviously the fight still continues,” Wollensack said. “But [when I think about] the ways in which the sanitized version of history, the lack of intersectionality actually really does a disservice to the movements going on today.”


Markle reflected on the extent of King’s international impact through other activists, citing research for his recent 2017 book, “A Motorcycle on Hell Run; Tanzania, Black Power, and Uncertain Future of Pan-Africanism, 1964-1974.”

“He had a whole bunch of people who [traveled abroad], particularly young people in the 60s and 70s, who were kind of responding to civil rights, the nonviolent approach, a passive resistance approach and starting to call for black power,” Markle said.

Markle elaborated on the ramifications that resulted from younger activists diverging from King’s approach.

“That meant revolutionary violence, that meant coalition building and that meant building black institutions,” Markle said. “But that also meant solidarity with all these other revolutions taking place in Asia, Latin America and particularly Africa.”

In response to a student who felt unattached to any particular national identity asking the panel how to reclaim history for herself, Fonseca responded by embracing his personal experience with the same.

“I feel lucky not to feel bounded to the issues, bounded to the United States or bounded to the nation state of Angola,” Fonseca said. “Because those are also constructions that might blind the shared sense of humanity across nation, across race, across class.”

Nandi Bynoe, the associate dean for diversity and inclusion, closed the program with her reflections on how to live and act upon the symposium’s theme.

“What do you think about what it means to be on the right side of revolution?” Bynoe said. “We have to be grounded in the historical context, whatever that means for us.”

The symposium followed the sixth annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service on Monday, Jan. 20, in which students joined Many Helping Hands 365, a Cambridge-based community service organization, at Cambridge City Hall in Central Square.

Students crafted Valentine’s Day cards to be sent to places such as homeless shelters and elder care facilities, in addition to other wares, according to the day’s schedule and description available on the Chaplaincy’s website.

Many Helping Hands 365 has planned Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day service activities in Central Square since 2010, according to the organization’s website.