The Unfinished Business of the Civil Rights Movement

Photo courtesy of Sarah Fox

Photo courtesy of Sarah Fox


As part of the Difficult Discussion series, Dr. Jacqueline Rivers of the Seymour Institute and Gregory Alan Thornbury engaged in a candid conversation in the City Room at The King’s College on the unfinished business of the Civil Rights Movement.

This event was held to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.

Dr. David Tubbs was the moderator of the discussion and he proposed various questions for the panelists to answer. The first question addressed the impact that the Civil Rights Movement had on our society in the present day.

“I think that there are two things that really stand out to me in terms of what the Civil Rights Movement accomplished. Most important, was really ending a reign of terror and violence in the South,” Dr. Rivers responded.

She went on to speak about the story of Emmett Till, a 14 year old Chicago resident who was murdered for whistling at a white woman. Rivers explained that this was the typical incident for blacks in the South. These events occurred so often that black men had to start walking on the other side of the street when they saw a white person approaching.

She stated that the Civil Rights Movement improved the lifestyle of blacks in the South after the humiliation that they faced on a daily basis. According to Rivers, the movement also initiated a structural change in American society. She stated that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 allowed blacks to vote and participate in their own working middle class through Affirmative Action.

“Even though it is true that middle-class blacks have a harder time passing on their status to their children than middle class whites do, it has important implications for the impact on the class structure in the black community into the future,” Rivers said.

These events occurred so often that black men had to start walking on the other side of the street when they saw a white person approaching.

Chancellor Thornbury responded by sharing a connection between Emmett Till and the Netflix special about David Chappelle. He stated that Chappelle ended his standup-comedy routine by paying homage to the death of Emmett Till. Thornbury noted that Till’s story influenced Chappelle’s life seeing that Till’s brutal death allowed him to have the rights that he has today.

“Every part of culture was affected, even something like popular entertainment is changed forever by the Civil Rights Movement and that’s what culture is, it is the lifeblood of the people. It is the flow of moral energy that keeps a society in tact,” Thornbury said.

He also claimed that the greatest significance of King’s efforts was his ability to persuade a nation purely through moral suasion. He went on to explain that King put the church on notice that it could not continue with business as usual if it fails to recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church community; it should be regarded as nothing more than an irrelevant social club for the 20th century.

Rivers pointed out that mass incarceration is one of the issues that is prevalent in American Society among the black community.

She claimed that based on a study conducted by Harvard University professors Lawrence D. Bobo and Victor Thompson, only 14 percent of African American men are drug users and 45 percent of them end up with prison sentences. Another statistic in the study stated that 2300 out of every 10,000 African Americans are incarcerated as opposed to 460 out of every 100,000 white Americans. She also stated that this issue is linked to high rates among black men.

Rivers noted that according to the New York Times, 6,000 black men were murdered in 2010 and 90 percent of the perpetrators were other black men.

300 out of every 10,000 African Americans are incarcerated as opposed to 460 out of every 100,000 white Americans.

“As you can see, the racial injustice is stark,” Dr. Rivers said as she continued to share the alarming statistics. “We as Christians should be morally outraged that these types of things are happening in this country. The racial aspects of it are just as deeply troubling.”

In terms of questions posed by the students about what The King’s College can do to rectify racial injustices that may be experienced by students on campus, Chancellor Thornbury responded by saying that the problem can be rectified by acknowledging that this is an issue that hasn’t been addressed in a long time. He claimed that although the school is making steps toward solving the problem, the danger is being too “self-congratulatory.” He said that these issues need to be dealt with in a “Matthew 19 approach”, which is confronting your brothers and sisters about the issues. He suggested that we operationalize how we capture, respond to, and follow up on the issue.

Dr. Rivers encouraged the students who face these injustices to keep raising up the problems and to challenge them. She also gave a charge to the leadership by stating that a change needs to come from the top. She suggested that the faculty must be more aware of these issues in order for the burden to be lifted from the students who face these problems.




CampusSarah Fox