Martin Luther King Jr. expert talks about the history of civil rights

Renowned author Taylor Branch spoke to UVU students about the importance of remembering the civil rights movement. Courtesy of the History department

Students had the opportunity to hear from renowned author Taylor Branch at the Turning Points in History Lecture on Feb. 28.

Branch spoke on the topic  “40 Years After Martin Luther King: Looking Ahead with Obama.”

This lecture gave students the opportunity to join with scholars to study important moments in history, according to History Professor William Cobb.

Branch began by telling a story of his childhood adventures in his father’s dry cleaning plant, listening to his father joke with Peter, an African American man who worked there. He mentioned that in those days, racially aware comments were avoided, and the idea of changing the way things were was unacceptable.

“Civil rights is not just about the past, it’s about things very vital to you and to the future,” Branch said.

He also said that in the era of the civil rights movement, people did not take the demonstrations seriously, but they became very effective. He added that although people expected the movement to only be successful if it resulted in a totalitarian government, the demonstrations were able to make the change happen and got rid of totalitarian state government that was bent on enforcing white supremacy.

Branch went on to say that once desegregation happened, the Southern states were able to focus on other things like sports stadiums and economic development strategies.

According to Branch, the civil rights movement “was a remarkable liberation.” He also said that although the model of liberation is not perfect, it is pertinent. The civil rights movement perfected the idea of self-governance and public trust.

Branch considered the civil rights activists to be modern Founding Fathers due to the fact that they studied the works of the original Founding Fathers and worked to eradicate of an oppressive hierarchy.

Branch spoke on the subject of nonviolence, which he said was more effective and advanced than people gave it credit for. He mentioned that some people from that era say that they are ashamed of it because they consider it to be the tool of the weak, having to take a different route than those who are idolized because of their use of violence.

In response, Branch said that nonviolence is a leadership quality that would serve to bring the rest of the country up to nonviolence. Currently, there is cynicism about the effectiveness of nonviolent change because “we haven’t fully digested what the ‘60s meant.”

“The presentation was very interesting. It was great to hear about the civil rights era from a different perspective”, said student Steven Anderson.