The spirit of the U.S. civil rights movement has inspired people around the world more than it has Americans, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author said last night in Annapolis at a program honoring the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who was assassinated 30 years ago this month.
The fall of the Berlin wall and the peaceful downfall of communism were inspired by the civil rights movement, said acclaimed historian Taylor Branch, who was the featured speaker at the event.
"The spirit of the civil rights movement is invoked across the world," Branch told more than 200 people who gathered at St. John's College to commemorate King's death. "The protest at Tiananmen Square was a peaceful sit-in.
"But our sense of hope here has atrophied somewhat," Branch said. "You couldn't picket the right to vote in Mississippi back then without being dragged off to jail. We could hope more and have more optimism today. That is one of our biggest deficiencies."
Branch, a Baltimore resident, won a Pulitzer 10 years ago for "Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63."
"Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years 1963-65," the second book in his planned trilogy about the civil rights movement, was recently published.
In his speech, Branch praised the U.S. youth of the 1960s for recognizing King's message and being willing to go to jail to support the movement. He also praised King's insight to move forward with protesting peacefully and getting arrested for his beliefs, even after King won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.
But Branch also criticized the movement for not including women more in prominent roles, despite their large presence in civil rights protests.
"Nonviolence is a wonderful thing," Branch said. "It tests the difference between being willing to kill for something or being willing to die for something. Dr. King died for something he believed in."
Last night's event was planned at the Unity Rally in February when community leaders, public officials and residents gathered St. Anne's Church in Annapolis to peacefully protest a Ku Klux Klan rally at the State House.
The event included a panel discussion on "Where Do We Go From Here?"
Among the panelists were Martin Dyer, the first black student at St. John's, who later graduated from the University of Maryland School of Law; and Thomas R. Hunt, one of two official representatives from the city of Annapolis to attend King's funeral.
Another speaker last night was Gilberto De Jesus, secretary of the Maryland Department of Juvenile Justice.
"I think if Dr. King were around, he'd be horrified that we were honoring him. Because he would say, 'Don't honor the messenger, but honor the message,' " De Jesus said.
Pub Date: 4/23/98