Skip to content
Topics
Stories

A tribute to the dream

Civil rights leader Robert Moses pio­neered voting reg­is­tra­tion in the seg­re­gated Southern state of Mis­sis­sippi in the 1960s, sur­viving relent­less vio­lence and intim­i­da­tion by prac­ticing what he ref­ereed to as “guerilla warfare.”

“I was based in a com­mu­nity I could dis­ap­pear in. Day or night I could knock on a door and someone would give me a bed to sleep in and food to eat,” Moses told award-​​winning broad­cast jour­nalist Pam Cross in an inter­view at North­eastern on Thursday after­noon at the university’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr. con­vo­ca­tion. “I lived with a net­work of people who had my back and showed me how to live in Mississippi.”

The con­ver­sa­tion served as the cen­ter­piece of the hour­long event, “A Tribute to the Dream,” which hon­ored Dr. King’s legacy and com­mem­o­rated the 50th anniver­sary of the Civil Rights Act through a series of visual nar­ra­tives, musical per­for­mances, and candid dis­cus­sions. The event was part of “50 Years For­ward: The Journey Con­tinues,” Northeastern’s year­long com­mem­o­ra­tion of the people, events, and orga­ni­za­tions ded­i­cated to civil rights in America and around the world.

“We’re here to cel­e­brate and honor the legacy of those who have gone before us, those who have fought for the rights and free­doms of all Amer­i­cans,” said host Robert Jose, asso­ciate dean for cul­tural, res­i­den­tial, and spir­i­tual life.

In addi­tion to hon­oring the Civil Rights Act’s 50th anniver­sary, “50 Years For­ward” is also cel­e­brating the 45th anniver­sary of Northeastern’s John D. O’Bryant African-​​American Insti­tute and the 40th anniver­sary of the Depart­ment of African Amer­ican Studies. It is spon­sored by the Office of Stu­dent Affairs and the Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties, which have helped orga­nize more than a dozen upcoming events.

On Thursday, Cross and Moses dis­cussed his path-​​breaking work as a civil rights leader in the Jim Crow South. Moses, she said, was a promi­nent figure in the civil rights move­ment as a field sec­re­tary for the Stu­dent Non-​​Violent Coor­di­nating Com­mittee, which orga­nized sit-​​ins and freedom rides. In 1961, he ini­ti­ated SNCC’s Mis­sis­sippi voter reg­is­tra­tion project and was appointed its director in 1962. Twenty years later, Moses received a MacArthur Foun­da­tion Fel­low­ship and sub­se­quently founded the Algebra Project, a non­profit orga­ni­za­tion that uses math­e­matics as an orga­nizing tool to ensure quality public school edu­ca­tion for every stu­dent in America.

The country, Moses said, is run­ning out of time to edu­cate its youth. “America must decide that young people are worthy of an edu­ca­tion,” he explained. “We are a con­sti­tu­tional people and a quality edu­ca­tion is a con­sti­tu­tional right.” In other words, Cross said, “voter reg­is­tra­tion was key but edu­ca­tion is a pathway to life.”

In his remarks, Ralph Martin, senior vice pres­i­dent and gen­eral counsel, chal­lenged the North­eastern com­mu­nity to join Moses’ fight for equality, noting that a vic­tory would trans­form Dr. King’s dream into a reality for the marginalized.

“My own belief is that this struggle should be everyone’s work,” said Martin, who char­ac­ter­ized Moses as a self­less icon. “Whether in small ges­tures or pro­found mea­sures, we all need to con­tinue the work that will help our com­mu­ni­ties realize the ideals that Dr. King acti­vated and that Bob Moses con­tinues to pursue.”

Promi­nent stu­dents, alumni, and uni­ver­sity leaders echoed Martin’s sen­ti­ments in a four-​​minute video clip in which they reflected on the impact of the civil rights movement.

“The mes­sage of Dr. King gave us hope,” said North­eastern Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun. “It allowed us to see that we can be agents of change.”

“Ever since we opened our doors more than 100 years ago, we’ve under­stood that no one should be mar­gin­al­ized or excluded or lim­ited in life in any way,” noted Mar­garet Burnham, a pro­fessor of law and director of the Civil Rights and Restora­tive Jus­tice Project. “That itself is our foun­da­tional com­mit­ment to social jus­tice and civil rights.”

As in the civil rights move­ment, freedom of expres­sion fig­ured promi­nently at Thursday’s event. Sand ani­ma­tion artist Char­lene Lanzel paid tribute to Dr. King by cre­ating a por­trait of the civil rights icon while Anjimile Chithambo, AMD’16, per­formed an acoustic ren­di­tion of the summer anthem “Wake Me Up.”

Dis­tilled Har­mony, Northeastern’s co-​​ed a-​​cappella group, and spe­cial guest Kwesi Abakah, a red­shirt freshman on the men’s bas­ket­ball team, per­formed “Feeling Good,” an Amer­ican stan­dard pop­u­lar­ized in 1965 by song­writer and civil rights activist Nina Simone.

Dressed in black and bedaz­zled in gold, the tal­ented vocal­ists put a unique spin on the classic tune, lending new meaning to the song’s lyrics, “It’s a new dawn. It’s a new day.”

The event ended on a high note—literally and metaphorically—when the Oliver Wen­dell Holmes Ele­men­tary School Choir led the singing of the spir­i­tu­ally uplifting song “This Little Light of Mine.”

“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,” the kids from Boston’s Dorch­ester neigh­bor­hood sang as hun­dreds of stu­dents, fac­ulty, and staff clapped along. “Every day in every way, I’m gonna let my little light shine.”

On Friday, North­eastern will host a lec­ture by Dou­glas Blackmon, the Pulitzer Prize-​​winning author of Slavery by Another Name: The Re-​​Enslavement of Black Amer­i­cans from the Civil War to World War II. Other upcoming events include a cel­e­bra­tion of African Amer­ican vet­erans on Thursday, Feb. 6; a panel dis­cus­sion on race and democ­racy on Friday, Feb. 7; and a con­fer­ence on gender and iden­tity in the age of Obama on Friday, March 21.

Gallery 360’s cur­rent exhibit fea­tures civil rights era pho­tog­raphy from the Uni­ver­sity Libraries’ Archives and Spe­cial Col­lec­tions, including por­traits of promi­nent fig­ures who fought for equality—namely Jackie Robinson, Coretta Scott King, and Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy.

Use the Twitter hashtag #50yrsfwdNU to stay con­nected to the series and visit north​eastern​.edu/​5​0​y​e​a​r​s​f​o​r​w​ard for a full list of activities.

– By Jason Kornwitz

More Stories

Photo of the Capitol Building at night

High stakes for politics, SCOTUS in 2018

01.04.2018
Photo of the crashed truck that was used in the October 31st attack in Manhattan.

Weaponizing Language: How the meaning of “allahu akbar” has been distorted

11.08.2017
Northeastern logo

Why I love studying Spanish

05.29.20
Uncategorized