Speaker: King's True Legacy Often Lost in Public's Memory

Published 01.20.2014


Keynoter Tim Wise, on stage in the ACC AuditoriumA number of students, some taking notes to fulfill class assignments, join faculty/staff and community members in Monday's audience.An alternating pair of sign-language interpreters keeps pace with Wise's engaging address.After a 75-minute speech and a spirited Q&A that covered such subjects as affirmative action and police "stop and frisk" policies, Wise takes time to greet the public.With heartfelt passion and pointed humor, Penn College's Martin Luther King Day speaker sought to resurrect a reputation he believes has been diluted by out-of-context sound bites and obscured by rhetorical code words. While Tim Wise doesn't fault well-intentioned people who honor the civil-rights leader through charitable acts, the anti-racism author and lecturer said such efforts represent a watered-down version of a man who was "hated, hunted and despised" – a man radically and viscerally opposed to war and economic inequality. Returning to campus after a 2009 appearance, Wise had particularly sharp words for politicians who glom onto King Day celebrations while advocating policies that run counter to social justice. "Both parties are inadequately committed to the vision of Dr. King," he said. "Take him or leave him, don't just agree with the parts that are easy. Either accept his vision or stop pretending that you belong in that space. You don't get to do both." With a nod toward many of the students who attended Monday's Klump Academic Center event, Wise said he is optimistic that the young can succeed where others have failed in returning important issues to the public agenda. "Unless or until we do that, we're not worthy of this man or of this holiday."