Historian to discuss legacy of the King years at UMC
If Taylor Branch had his way, Americans would observe Martin Luther King Day every week.
A historian of the King years who will speak at the University of Minnesota-Crookston on Monday, he told an audience at the Aspen Institute a year ago that the nation has forgotten what the civil rights struggle was like and the changes that it wrought.
The end of racial segregation also brought the end of gender segregation and immigration reforms that paved the way for today's multi-ethnic society, he said.
Branch, a native of Atlanta, Ga., won a Pulitzer Prize for "Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-1963," the first book in a trilogy about American society and politics from 1954 to 1968, when King was assassinated.
His presentation, "Civil Rights Then and Now: Reflections on the King Years," will be held at 7 p.m. Monday in UMC's Kiehle Auditorium. He will also speak at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Lake Agassiz Regional Library in Crookston.
In his talk at the Aspen Institute, Branch marveled at how different the America of 50 years ago was from the America of today. When Alabama Gov. George Wallace vowed "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever" in his 1963 inaugural address, Branch said that segregation was in the constitution of many southern states, there was de facto segregation in many northern institutions, college and professional sports was segregated and even libraries were segregated.
In the final book of his trilogy, "At Canaan's Edge," Branch noted that when King led a march in Chicago to protest segregated housing and unequal government benefits, white mobs taunted and threw rocks at marchers, according to a New York Times review of the book.
"At Canaan's Edge" also noted how Southerners added a ban on gender discrimination to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as a form of mockery, the review said. The Times itself even questioned whether the act would force business executives to allow a "dizzy blonde" to pilot a tugboat or pitch for a professional baseball team.
Fifty years ago, immigration laws restricted access to people from most countries other than northern Europe, Branch reminded the Aspen audience.
America has changed since -- Wallace would later apologize for his "segregation forever" speech -- but, in some cases, it has not.
Branch said that, in defending segregation, Wallace "invented most of the language that is chillingly contemporary today in resenting the government and the political activities that forced about changes for equal citizenship."
Wallace, Branch said, spoke of "pointy-headed bureaucrats in Washington telling you... where you had to send your children to school" and that "they were in cahoots with a biased national media ... whose effective goal was to concentrate all power in the central government."
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