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Friday, July 25, 2014 | Last updated: 6:39am

History professor to address race relations, legacy of MLK



African American Student Affairs will host the second annual MLK Keynote Address on Race and Region in the Age of Obama this Friday with guest speaker Matthew C. Whitaker.

Whitaker is currently the Arizona State University Foundation Professor of History and the founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at ASU. He is a specialist in African-American history, civil rights and the history of people of color in relation to civil rights, particularly in the American West.

The event was scheduled just in time to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day this Monday. Maria Moore, program director of African American Student Affairs, said Whitaker was chosen as the keynote speaker to speak in the spirit and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and to address issues King spoke about that are still important today.

Whitaker said he plans on emphasizing what he believes King wanted us to remember the most.

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By Tyler Baker / Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tyler Baker / The Daily Wildcat The 27th annual Martin Luther King Jr. walk took place around campus, ending with speeches by community members on the UA Mall, Jan. 21, 2013.

“Often, when people evoke King, they evoke his rhetoric and his symbolism and don’t pay attention to his call for specific action,” Whitaker said. “A lot of people love to emphasize the King of 1963, the King of ‘I have a dream.’ However, the King of 1968 encouraged us to look each other in the eye and be more compassionate with one another.”

Whitaker said that he will touch on a variety of topics that are particularly relevant to our region, including how identity and race relations have evolved, civil rights, interracial alliances, and the election and reelection of President Barack Obama. Whitaker notes it is often forgotten that although Obama grew up in the Midwest, he spent a decent amount of time in Hawaii, and evokes a lot of values from the American West.

“A lot of what’s happening right now is an extension of what has happened in the past,” Whitaker said. “If we don’t understand what happened in the past, we are really doomed in many ways to fall into the potholes of ignorance that exists today.”

Moore said she believes there will be a better turnout this year than the previous year because of the change in format to a lecture-styled event.

“Last year, we did a luncheon and were only able to serve 30 to 40 people,” Moore said. “This year, we are trying to make the event available to more people.”

Moore said 50 to 75 people are expected to attend, including students, faculty and Tucson locals.

Aubrey Arrowood, a physiology junior, said she heard about the event through her minor department, Africana studies.

“I plan on attending the event because I am eager to learn about the civil rights movement and how race relations have evolved in our state,” said Arrowood. “I think it’s really important to understand the history in order to move forward and understand what is happening today.”


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