Speaker Roland Martin addresses controversial topics on Martin Luther King Jr.

Shiann Sivell and Nathan Weaver

Guest speaker Roland Martin spoke on some of the more controversial aspects of Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy at the 2019 annual MLK Celebration Speech Wednesday night.

The evening began with a brief slideshow of iconic images from the civil rights movement, and a brief round of applause for Statesboro Mayor Jonathan McCollar who was also in attendance.

Martin began the night by asking the audience to describe their experiences with past events commemorating the life of King.

Members in the audience responded that such events had been “inspirational,” “empowering,” “focused on current issues” and, to the amusement of Martin and others, “unorganized.”

Martin then asked the crowd how many of them were familiar with more than two speeches by King. He counted about 12 people.

Martin also asked those in attendance to name some of the books King actually authored. A long pause was followed by a few tentative hands being raised, and a few titles were named, after which Martin recommended King’s fourth and final book, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?”

“The reason I started this way is because part of the problem I have with how we as a nation focus on the national holiday of Dr. King is that we really do it gross deservices to him and his legacy,” Martin said. “We do a great disservice. We have offered a very narrow, limited view of Dr. King.”

Martin spoke at length about how often Martin Luther King is invoked by those with whom he likely would have vehemently disagreed.

“Dr. King has become America’s civil rights mascot,” Martin said. “If you get in trouble, just quote Dr. King.”

“I Have a Dream” and nothing else

Martin described to the audience how King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, actually titled “Normalcy No More,” has been played at nearly all the MLK events he attended, and how typically only short segments of the over 43-minute-long speech are played.

Skipping to the “I have a dream” part, Martin said, ignores the essence of the day King gave the speech and issues black people were fighting at that time.

“The reason that bugs me immensely is because if we narrow all of this man down to two speeches, we completely miss who he is,” Martin said. “If we continue to allow this to happen, we’re going to have another generation of people who are celebrating [King’s] birthday, celebrating his life, and they’re not really celebrating his life. They’re celebrating a couple of speeches.”

The darker moments of MLK

King, Martin said, suffered from severe and constant bouts of depression throughout his fight for civil rights.

In one instant during the Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike of 1968, a chaotic fight broke out near the end of the march. King was taken back to his hotel where he got into bed, fully-clothed, and went into a state of massive depression, Martin said.

During a 1958 book signing in New York, King was stabbed by a woman with letter opener. He was rushed into a four-hour surgery and had two of his ribs and part of his breast plate removed.

“The doctor said if Dr. King had even sneezed he would be dead,” Martin said. “Can you imagine the level of calm it required when you got stabbed and everybody around you is losing it, and you’ve got to be as calm as possible and not move until you get to the hospital?”

After King’s assassination, the autopsy revealed that King’s heart was “that of a 70-year-old.” King was 39 when he died.

“That’s the King we don’t like to talk about, because to deal with that King requires us to deal with the pain and intensity of the work he was involved in and to actually make freedom ring, ” Martin said. “I can’t celebrate this other King and ignore that.”

GS senator questions Martin

While Martin kept the spirit of the room high, he had one disagreement with a student.

During the Q&A portion of Martin’s presentation, audience members had a chance to ask him questions. A series of attendees, some of whom were students, asked Martin about topics ranging from Malcolm X to Martin’s personal book recommendations.

The last question of the evening was posed to Martin by Student Government Association senator-at-large Keyshawn Housey, who questioned Martin concerning accusations that he was an “accommodationist” and that he had “danced around issues” during past interviews.

The exchange became heated and the event ended abruptly after the audience became increasingly agitated in response.

Later, Martin got into an argument on Twitter with Michael Woody, secretary of Georgia Southern’s Young Democrats, who came to Housey’s defense.

“He attacked the student in front of the crowd,” Woody said in the tweet. “He convinced everyone to laugh at this student even though he presented a good question.”

{{tncms-inline account=”MWoody2036″ html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">He convinced everyone to laugh at this student even though he presented a good question. He stood on stage after rambling on for an hour and had the audacity to insult and mock a student trying to learn. All the while telling the student to get his facts straight. They were.</p>— Michael Woody (@MWoody2036) <a href="https://twitter.com/MWoody2036/status/1090988647652970497?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 31, 2019</a></blockquote>” id=”1090988647652970497″ type=”twitter”}}

Martin responded by accusing Woody of lying, and said, “[Housey] had his facts all wrong, but Woody won’t admit that his friend screwed up.”

Martin’s defense for berating Housey so publicly was that he should have “thought his way through” the question.

“Never ask a question you don’t know the answer to,” Martin said. “Always have the facts.”

Earlier in the week, Martin addressed a past incident where he had a disagreement over tweets interpreted as homophobic with the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

The full exchange can be read here.

Shiann Sivell, The George-Anne Enterprise Reporter, gaeditor@georgiasouthern.edu

Nathan Weaver, The George-Anne News Reporter, ganewsed@georgiasouthern.edu