On Wednesday afternoon, the University of Connecticut Avery Point Global Café and the Avery Point Director’s Office hosted Michael Bradford, UConn’s Provost for Faculty, Staff and Student Development, to discuss the letter Martin Luther King Jr. wrote from Birmingham Jail. The audience was able to ask Bradford any questions or simply share their insight on the subject.
The Global Café is an “interdisciplinary learning community aimed at bringing the campus community together and examining real world issues that span across the disciplines and affect us all,” said Wolfley. It began 12 years ago.
Coordinator for Global Café Laurie Wolfley began the discussion by sharing an excerpt of the letter with the audience. This particular section discussed the importance of non-violent actions, such as marches and sit-ins.
MLK Jr. wrote, “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has consistently refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.”
Bradford saw similarities between his own grandmother and MLK Jr, as he shared with the audience through a story that took place when he was much younger. During his life, Bradford witnessed his grandmother take a stance against oppression many times. One particular time, she used her ability to pass as White to swim in a pool that was strictly for White people. After she swam, she confessed her crime to the lifeguard and was arrested, before being bailed out by members of the NCAAP.
“She was absolutely committed to standing up for her own equality, for her own humanity and she was willing to put herself out for other people; she was deeply committed,” he said. “Matter of fact, she is one of the strongest Black women I have ever known in my entire life.”
When speaking about violent or nonviolent action, Bradford realized the importance of maintaining one’s own humanity throughout the process of demanding justice.
“Nonviolent action is probably one of the only ways to do that,” he said. “It’s not necessarily that the person that is committing the violence against those practicing nonviolence, it’s that the world sees, and those folks are shamed, and the folks that have the power to make some decisions feel that level of shame and act because at the end of the day it is about action.”
According to many, there are still parallels between MLK Jr.’s letter and society today. He wrote, “Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its unjust treatment of Negro in the courts is a notorious reality. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in this nation. These are hard, brutal, and unbelievable facts.”
When comparing the past and the present, Bradford stated that he believed we have both moved forward and backward.
“We see ourselves in this paradox,” he said. “We see ourselves having moved forward in so many ways as far as racial relations in this country, and we see ourselves either at a standstill or having moved backwards in some ways, and we’re living in that space.”
He expresses his understanding that those who want to live in a White supremacist society feel that they are justified in their beliefs.
“The ways to change that are no different than they were during the Civil Rights movement either,” said Bradford. “To act, to voice our ideas and objectives for equality, to press upon our politicians to create laws.”
He states that many of the strategies used during the movement are just as valid then as they are today.