Researcher Vernon Mitchell Jr. wants to ‘humanize’ MLK in Washington University commemoration

The impact of Martin Luther King Jr. continues to influence various civil rights movements today. Washington University will commemorate the late civil rights leader  at 7 p.m., Monday, in Graham Chapel.

On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh talked to Vernon Mitchell Jr., curator of Popular American Arts and Culture in the Department of Special Collections at Washington University.

Mitchell talked about his research and the message he plans to deliver as part of the university’s commemoration. He studies the impact of African-American art and culture on movements and popular culture.

In his speech, Mitchell wants to reclaim King. 

“What I try to do when I teach about Dr. King is I try to humanize him. I try to take him off of the pedestal,” Mitchell said. “Not in a way that is sensational. I try to understand him as a man, as a human being.”

Mitchell said that allows students to resonate with the iconic leader. During the civil rights movement, King remained hopeful in spite of harsh opposition and he understood the role power played in society, as well as the role love played. 

Mitchell touched on King’s notion of “love ethic.”

“Power has to be linked to love,” he said. “The love that [King] was talking about wasn’t just a feeling or emotion … but your ability to exist in the world with dignity and creativity to be your best self. That should be done without any encumbrances.”

When it comes to a contemporary version of an iconic leader like King, Mitchell said “we have to get past this notion of messianic leadership.”

“We have to understand that King first was a symbol, but [people] have to find their inner King; the part of themselves … that challenge them to be their best selves,” he said.

Listen to hear more about Mitchell’s research and for the full discussion:

 

Related Events:

What: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration
When: 7 p.m., Monday, Jan. 15
Where: Graham Chapel, Washington University Danforth Campus

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Lou

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