Former MC professor returns for Blount County MLK Day Celebration

On Jan. 20, Maryville College utilized the Ronald and Lynda Nutt Theatre at 2 p.m. to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for the Blount County MLK celebration with the help of Dr. Frances Henderson. Henderson “returned home” to assist the community in recognizing the legacy of King through a speech she titled, “Reclaiming Martin Luther King Jr.”

                “This speech was a reclamation of his legacy, taking him back from the whitewashed version that we as a nation currently propagate and push on our children,” Henderson said.

                Since the time of King’s death, his words have been used to support ideals that his beliefs were not built on, and this is how Henderson’s speech title was formed. For instance, Henderson mentioned a Super Bowl commercial from Dodge promoting their Ram truck. It took a speech from King that expressed anti-consumerism to encourage buying the truck.

Keynote speaker Dr. Frances Henderson discusses the misconceptions of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy.

Photo taken by Jacob Haskew, Maryville College Multimedia Communications Specialist.

                This went into the idea of Henderson discussing another quote of King: “Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.”

                By not recognizing the purpose of the speech in its entirety, the truck commercial did the exact opposite of what the speech was opposing. Often King is misinterpreted or not fully quoted, and the meaning becomes lost in translation—as Henderson put it.

                “We often forget the intentions of what Dr. King stood for, and that can cause just as much harm to his legacy,” she said.

                “What I took away was that there is an issue with how we speak and celebrate MLK and how, like she stated, that has been whitewashed in a way,” said senior Aaron Soloman. “What I also took away was being able to have that uncomfortable conversation about something most don’t want to talk about. To me it meant so much because it’s the reality of what’s going on in America, and it is awesome to see someone not afraid to confront the issue and ‘call people out’ about it.”

                By reminding the community of the ground that King stood for, Henderson resurfaced King’s legacy in its totality for students and members of Blount County and reminded them of the principles that were lost along the way.

                “I think Dr. Henderson’s speech mimicked Dr. King’s in that during his time he spoke out against things that people considered provocative,” said Black Student Alliance president Yana Macon. “Hundreds of thousands of people hated even the idea of integration, and while they were comfortable in their roles of racism, Dr. King shook things up. Likewise, Dr. Henderson brought to the forefront of everyone’s mind all the discriminatory occurrences of today’s society that are being pushed aside because a large part of the population is comfortable in their privilege.”

                Henderson concluded by sharing a few ways to rid a community of racism from Philadelphia educational rights advocate named Sharif El-Mekki:

  1. Make overt forms of racism socially unacceptable
  2. Examine white privilege
  3. Act with a sense of urgency

Blount County church choirs unified to commemorate Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Photo taken by Jacob Haskew, Maryville College Multimedia Communications Specialist.

                This point was not only for people of color to share with others, but for anyone willing to listen. As Henderson introduced the points, she began with another King quote:

                “The majority of white Americans consider themselves committed to justice for the negro. They believe that American society is essentially hospitable top fair play, and the steady growth towards a middle utopia embodying the racial harmony. Unfortunately, this is a fantasy of self-deception and comfortable vanity.”

                These words were not just heard by the people of color in the audience but everyone.

                “Overall, I was overwhelmed by the speech. However, it wasn’t because I was uncomfortable as a white female,” said senior Abby Tonos. “I think it’s because it was hard to hear the hypocritical nature of society and using King for things he was blatantly fighting against like capitalism. I think it boils down to being educated and being perceptive. It didn’t alter my perception of people, but it did make me realize that there’s a lot of misinformation and lack of understanding throughout society.”

                “If nothing else is remembered from this speech, just continue to live by the code of Isaac Anderson; do good on the largest scale and make it count,” Henderson said. Her speech provided the community with a lot of information and a sense of agency.

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