Cornel West was the keynote speaker at the 34th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration Event celebrated at the UB Center for the Arts, Friday, February 5, at 8 PM. Prior to the lecture of Dr. Cornel West, Jerry L. Linder, president of the UB Minority Faculty & Staff Association welcomed audience in the sold-out event. Rev. Daris Dixon-Clark did the Invocation, followed by John B. Simpson, President of UB. Osiris E. Gomez and Olivia R. Cox were the two students both recognized for Academic Achievement Award and the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship respectively. The program was followed by an answer and question period.
Dr. Cornel West walked on to the stage toward the lectern, bending at the waist and knees, wearing his signature Afro hair style reminiscent of the great African American orator, Frederick Douglass, spectacles, suit, tie ,his signature black scarf around his neck looking very much like a college professor. Dr. West is the Class of 1943 Professor at Princeton University, the author of numerous books, his most famous Race Matters (1993). Dr. West is a man that leaves no stone unturned, questioning in the same tradition of his scholarly mentors Socrates, Plato, Anton Chekhov influenced by the music of John Coltrane.
A highlight of his address tonight was the discussion of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mrs. Mamie Till Mobley, mother of Emmett Till, as he saw the murder of this young 13-year-old youth from Chicago as a significant moment in the Civil Rights Movement. It was a gruesome killing as late one August night in 1955 while Emmett visited his relatives down south in Mississippi, white men showed up in the middle of the night to forcefully take him away to question him about how he had approached the wife of one of the white abductors earlier in the day at a family store where he stopped with his cousins in Money Mississippi. Some words exchanged between Emmett and one of the white woman in the store allegedly he whistle at her or said something flirtatious while exiting the store. For this he was abducted from the home of the relatives he visited over the summer school vacation late at night, and never seen again his body found floating in the Tallahatchie River. A bullet had pierced the middle of his skull, eyes gouged, his teeth knocked out, his ears cut, his body dangled from a 75 lb gin fan barbed wired to his neck used to anchor his body in the river.
Dr. West called the white abductors "conformist white supremest" and "cowardly terrorist." It was the under side of American Democracy, the U.S. , the Jim Crow Mississippi way of life that subjected black folks against the wall of violence and terrorism...It was the Cold War period and U.S. didn't want its virulent form of racism show cased as it fear it was fodder for the Russians. Till's mother insisted on an open casket so the world could see what they did to her only son. And it was her plead for justice not revenge that West described as in the tradition of King.