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ISSUE 121 VOL 17 PUBLISHED 4/18/2008

History neglected

By Ellen Weaver
Contributing Writer

Friday, April 18, 2008

Friday, April 4 was the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. So why, you may ask, am I writing about this a week after the fact? Well, it may be due to the fact that I didn't hear anything about King until a few days after the anniversary of his death. However, even then, the information went into my head and then left a few moments later to make space for all the "important" information I had to remember for my test the next day.

I'm writing about King now because of the ironic fact that I (or anyone else for that matter) didn't write about him last week. To better articulate my point, St. Olaf students (myself included) can get caught up in our stressful lives -- frantically looking toward how we can change the future -- that we don't take time to acknowledge or reflect on our history.

As St. Olaf students, we have a pretty well-rehearsed script to recite when someone asks what our plans for the future are. But how many students (before reading the first sentence of this article) could actually tell you when King was assassinated? My guess is not as many as should for being well-educated college students.

Perhaps there was an effort made on April 4, but as an average student, I know I wasn't aware of anything. Even if there were a memorial event planned on Friday, how many students would actually take time out of their extra-curricular and academic schedules to remember the important struggles so many have gone through in this country?

St. Olaf needs to make a better effort to help the campus recognize important events and people -- such as the civil rights movement and King -- not only to evaluate how far we've come, but also how far we still have to go in the fight for equality. We as a society need to acknowledge our past struggles in order to evaluate our present and future conditions.

Over spring break, I got the opportunity to spend the week in Marvell, Ark. Still think segregation, inequality and injustice are things of the past? Talk to some of the 1,300 people that live in this town, and they'll tell you a different story.

Divisions of race and class are still present in this small southern town on the Mississippi River. One night in Marvell, a local church was hosting a tent revival in the middle of Main Street. The group I was with and many other from the church and the town gathered under a wooden shelter to hear, listen, sing and worship.

The preacher spoke passionately about everything from rap music to education. He spoke of the power of a person's words and attitude. He also spoke of the unjust divisions of this country. "I am an American citizen," he said, "I am not an African-American. I don't know anything about Africa. I am an American. We are all Americans."

This experience made me think about how we segregate our society. Race, class, gender, religion; these divisions still exist. We separate ourselves, although not always intentionally.

The people in Marvell say they really don't have any problems with people of other races living together, but that's just the way the town has been for years. It's hard to change and break out of our comfort zone. Some of us may already know that at St. Olaf we really have to make an effort to break away from our routine and burst the St. Olaf bubble.

We also must challenge the way we think. Seeing King as a pivotal character in the history of the civil rights struggle in this country is a good start.

However, that would assume the civil rights struggle is merely "history." The struggles are not over and remembering people like King is the first step in changing that. If we don't presently acknowledge our past, how can we change our future?

Ellen Weaver '11 is from Shawnee, Kans. She majors in history.

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