On a day Martin Luther King is being honored and remembered, Fisk University’s connection to the Civil Rights movement is unmistakable.
The college itself was an experiment to determine whether former slaves could be educated. The answer was yes.
After several successful student-led sit-ins in downtown Nashville, King came to Nashville to get an education himself.
“At one point after Dr. King was introduced, he pointed out he didn’t come to Nashville to teach Nashville, he came to Nashville to learn from Nashville, to look at what happened here,” said Dr. Reavis Mitchell, a history professor at Fisk University.
During the Civil Rights movement, when he was still in high school, Mitchell said he wanted to be involved with the Nashville sit-ins. That’s when he got a first-hand lesson in the real purpose behind King’s efforts.
“We were down near the local bus station where you would gather and someone threw a rock, and the rock came across the side of my ear and I lost my temper,” said Mitchell. “I was looking to see who threw the rock, and one of the college students stopped me and said ‘You’re not ready for this.’ Actually he gave me bus fare and said you need to go back home.”
Non-violence was, and still is, the key, according to Mitchell. But he understands the frustration of those who reach a breaking point as the nation witnessed in Chicago in 1919, the so-called red summer, when bloody violence left hundreds dead across the country after an unthinkable act along the shores of Lake Michigan.
“In Chicago, they drew a line across Lake Michigan where there was white water and black water,” said Mitchell. “One day a young black boy swam over into the white water and he was stoned to death.”
Watts, Los Angeles, Ferguson, rioting, looting and burning has marred numerous black communities, often leaving them in ruins.
Mitchell hopes that pattern will become a thing of the past, but adds if MLK’s dream is to be fully realized, there’s still plenty of work ahead for everyone.
“How do you reach that same level of social consciousness that King was able to bring about in his period, in that day, and make that part of the United States of America?” asked Mitchell.
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