The Rev. Dr. Bernard Lafayette, a top aide to the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the national coordinator of the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign, the watershed momemt of the Civil Rights Movement, will be in Michigan on Thursday, Sep 27, to deliver a lecture on “Race, Voting Rights, American Politics: The Civil Rights Era and Today,” at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
The forum, which starts at 4 p.m., will be held in Auditorium A. Angell Hall. The event, which is open and free to the public, will also feature UM professor Vincent Hutchins who is the University of Michigan principal investigator for the American National Election Study for the 2012 election.
The highlight of the program will be a special screening of the acclaimed film “Freedom Riders” which features Lafayette among the Freedom Riders who were crucial to the battle for civil rights. While at the University of Michigan this week Lafayette will also lead a two-day training session, Sept 28-29, on Kingian nonviolence, something for which he has been invited by nations including Nigeria and organizations around the world to conduct workshops and seminars on the philosophy of nonviolence as an effective tool for social change.
A respected member of the Joshua generation of the civil rights movement, Lafayette co-founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1960, and he was a core leader and strategist of the Civil Rights Movement in Nashville, Tenn., in 1960 and in Selma, Ala., in 1965. He directed the Alabama Voter Registration Project in 1962, and was appointed by Dr. King to be the national program administrator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Currently, a distinguished senior scholar-in-residence at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, Lafayette occupies an important seat in the history of the Black pilgrimage in America.
In 2010, Lafayette sat down with Michigan Chronicle editor Bankole Thompson at the King Center in Atlanta for an exclusive interview for Thompson’s forthcoming book that year titled “Obama and Black Loyalty,” which was published by Global Mark Makers in Iowa.
During the interview, Lafayette was asked whether some Tea Party protesters in Washington who carried placards with racially tinged messages mocking President Obama showed any real change of heart on race.
“The change of heart has come through the majority of the people that made it possible for Barack to be elected,” Lafayette explained. “You are always going to have elements in the community in our country that hold fast to some of their old attitudes and traditions.
“Basically it is a product of their fears, and that fear comes from a lack of information, knowledge and exposure and interpretation of their experiences. So we see this kind of attitude coming forth and people being very negative, showing forth their ugliness but it does not prevail. That’s the main thing, it’s not predominant.”
Asked whether Black leaders should criticize President Obama, Lafayette said yes.
“I think that if people feel the necessity of giving their critical evaluation and remarks, that’s part of our freedom of speech. We should not silence people and say because of their particular ethnicity, they should not express their true criticism. That also represents the kind of change that we are talking about,” Lafayette said.
“Too many people are at war with each other over some superficial identification such as tribal and religious which really are not essential to the issues we are talking about. But they hide behind those kinds of cloaks in order to justify their attacks on people. Unfortunately, that is the case. The fact that Blacks can criticize other Blacks says we have come to another level.”
What would Dr. King have said about the Obama presidency? Lafayette said this about the man for whom he worked as a confidant:
“I think he would be very proud of what has happened and he would be very happy. I think he would be happy because here is an individual, a fellow American who is concerned about the conditions of poor people. But more importantly, King in his last campaign, the Poor People’s Campaign, put the burden and responsibility of changing the conditions of poor people on the government. Not a political party, not an individual but the government should be responsible for making sure that every person would have an opportunity to have a good paying job and be able to take care of their family and their communities.”
Lafayette added, “So the fact that Barack is a person of color, a Black man, would be an additional asset which really reflects the change that is taking place in our country. But King would be proud if he had been a White man, Native American or Hispanic or Asian.”
That’s what King was fighting for, he noted, for people to be accepted regardless of their ethnicity.
“But King would also have been in favor of those who want to criticize and have a debate about these issues,” Lafayette said.