Pictures, Video and Article by Erin Valentine
“You are a citizen of this country and you own a piece of its failures, you own a piece of its glory, you own a piece of its past, you own a piece of its future. And you are deciding what is going to happen,” said Pulitzer Prize winning author Taylor Branch.
Introduced by Kenn Gaither, associate dean in the School of Communications, and Elon junior Yasmine Arrington, an Elon College Fellow, Branch spoke about the civil rights movement and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. today in the McCrary Theatre at Elon University.
Branch’s lecture, titled “Myth & Miracles from the King Years,” focused not just on the Civil Rights Movement, but also on today’s bipartisanship in today’s society.
An UNC-Chapel Hill graduate, Branch spoke as part of The Baird Pulitzer Prize Lecture Series, which is designed to bring Pulitzer Prize winners to Elon University’s campus.
Having dedicated 24 years of research to his books, Branch is a strong advocate of talking about issues ranging from remaining race issues to college athletes’ restricting scholarships.
Speaking of today’s bipartisan society, Branch said, “We’re faced with gridlock. The question is how to get out of gridlock and what place does our history and civil rights should play today in accomplishing the same thing.”
On the Civil Rights Movement, Branch spoke about how children would protest by marching around and singing songs, and yet still be blasted with hoses and beaten by police.
“We were shamed by the notion that small children broke the emotional dams. Experts couldn’t analyze it. They still to this day have not analyzed how the power relations of great nations turned, not on our reason, not on great elections, not on brilliant campaign speeches, but on the witness of schoolchildren.”
Branch also talked about King’s role in the Civil Rights Movement, and how his words and spirit held power and motivated people to spark change.
“King didn’t talk only about race,” said Branch. “He talked about justice. He talked about democracy. He talked about redeeming the soul of America. He put things in the broadest possible terms.”
“He put one foot in the constitution and another in the scriptures,” said Branch of King’s influences.
Branch believes that the Civil Rights Movement is important because it has contemporary applications.
“And now, we take it for granted all of these things that flowed out of these blessings. That flowed out of the Civil Rights Movement,” said Branch.
He also encouraged students, and everyone, to not celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day by just going to the beach or to a soup kitchen, but to step out of their comfort zones.
“Find something that makes you a little uncomfortable about human beings that are slightly different from you and put yourself out there and do,” said Branch.
The Civil Rights Movement inspired change from a group of people who had the will to make their lives better and make a difference.
“We all stand on the shoulders of this movement,” said Branch.
The Civil Rights Movement did not just end segregation, it opened doors for people and broke down the barriers of racial segregation, beyond just loosening legal racial divides.
Branch’s latest book, “The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement,” is a compilation of 18 key moments of the civil rights movement, spanning from 1954 to 1968 and was released in January of this year.