By MICHELLE MUELLER
©The Recorder January 30, 2020
Members of both the Albion College and city of Albion communities came together Tuesday evening for the College’s annual Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Convocation and Community Celebration which was held at the Bohm Theatre. The event was filled with strong, moving music and words from performers and speakers.
The Albion College Concert Choir, under the direction of Dr. Clayton Parr, professor of music and director of choral activities, performed three numbers – “Selma 1965: Let My People Go,” “Goin’ Up a Yonder,” and “Cornerstone.” A small group of local young women students known as the 4-H Creative and Expressive Arts Singers performed a powerful rendition of “Speak.” And, of course, early in the program, the audience joined the choir in singing the always stirring “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
In his opening remarks, college president Dr. Mauri Ditzler recounted the impact of Dr. Ruth Holland Scott – born and raised in Albion, and a college alum – being the first speaker to stand at the podium after the annual MLK convocation was relocated to the Bohm Theatre since its renovation a number of years ago.
Ditzler pointed out that, being African American, the young Ruth Holland would have only been allowed to sit up in the Bohm’s balcony back in the day
Ditzler pointed out that, being African American, the young Ruth Holland would have only been allowed to sit up in the Bohm’s balcony back in the days in which it was segregated.
“We’ve had a lot of great speakers and great performances in this wonderful theater (since it’s restoration),” Ditzler added. “But the most important people here have been you!”
To introduce the event’s keynote speaker, Dr. Wesley Dick, a history professor at Albion College and ardent advocate for civil rights, took the stage. His speech, which is relevant to every man, woman, and child residing in the city and campus of Albion and its vicinity, follows in its entirety:
“My role tonight is to provide a brief historical context for the MLK Convocation.
For Judge Edwards, our esteemed keynote speaker, I also want to offer a glimpse into Albion’s history and remind us all why we are gathered here, here in this place.
“We are here because Martin Luther King, Jr. came to Albion on March 13, 1963.
“We are here because it is the Martin Luther King Jr. Convocation. The MLK Convocation originated in the Albion community through the guiding hand of the Albion Branch NAACP and the Albion Black Churches. In time, Albion College signed on and the MLK Convocation has become the signature College-Community Collaboration. Recent keynote speakers have included civil rights icons Julian Bond and Diane Nash, prize-winning journalist Rochelle Riley, and distinguished Albion College alumni Ruth Holland Scott, Michael Williams, and now Dannia Edwards [the first African American woman to be appointed to the bench in her district, the third largest in the State of Minnesota].
“We are here because Martin Luther King, Jr. came to Albion on March 13, 1963.
King spoke on Albion College’s campus at Goodrich Chapel. His subject was ‘the American Dream.’ King noted: ‘America is still essentially a dream, yet largely unfulfilled.’
That dimension took shape when the Albion Malleable Iron Company went to the American South, to Pensacola, Florida, to recruit workers.
Sixty-four black men arrived at the Albion train station in November of 1916.
The headline in the Albion Evening Recorder for King’s speech proclaimed: Northern Segregation May Be More Serious. King added: ‘The South is largely segregated. The North is desegregated legally, but integration is absent from both. The North may develop more tragic segregation, for it is in the North that many Negroes suffer deeper frustration.
“We are here because Albion, Michigan is a diverse community. African Americans comprise 30% of Albion’s population. That dimension took shape when the Albion Malleable Iron Company went to the American South, to Pensacola, Florida, to recruit workers.
Sixty-four black men arrived at the Albion train station in November of 1916. They were soon followed by their families. Thus, it was, that Albion had become a participant in what became known as ‘The Great Migration’ of African Americans from the South to the North. At one of the early Albion Emancipation Day parades, young boys carried placards that read: ‘We Came to Albion to Find a Home.’
“More waves of the Great Migration washed over Albion, more African Americans made Albion their home, and nothing would ever be the same—nothing would ever be the same.
The good news is that Albion African Americans formed a chapter of the NAACP, spoke up, and protested segregated schools and theaters.
Those Great Migrators to Albion experienced the northern segregation and racism that Dr. King talked about during his Albion visit. One example offers a teachable moment: in this very theatre, the Bohm Theatre, African Americans, for many years, could only sit in the balcony.
The good news is that Albion African Americans formed a chapter of the NAACP, spoke up, and protested segregated schools and theaters. We honor those who bent the arc of their moral universe toward justice.
“We are here because Albion College has become a campus of rich diversity. Consider the Albion College student body when Dr. Martin Luther King looked out from the stage at Goodrich Chapel [he came to preach at a Lenten service at the First United Methodist Church in March 1960]. Reviewing the college yearbooks from the early 1960s, there were only a half dozen African American students.
Albion College’s student body has begun to look like America. Some of our students are from Albion through the “Build Albion Fellows Program.” Others are from places far away—Georgia, Florida, Texas, Tennessee, Illinois, and California. It could be described as a Great Migration of African American and Latino students to Albion College.
As Jess Womack, a student in 1963, recalled: “Black was not a primary color at Albion College in the early 1960s.” If Martin Luther King, Jr. were to witness the Albion College student body today, he would find a very different campus. In 2020, that number of African American students has climbed to well over 200. The number of Latino students has also skyrocketed. Albion College’s student body has begun to look like America. Some of our students are from Albion through the “Build Albion Fellows Program.” Others are from places far away—Georgia, Florida, Texas, Tennessee, Illinois, and California. It could be described as a Great Migration of African American and Latino students to Albion College. Like the impact on the City of Albion of the 1916 Great Migration, the recent Great Migration of students to Albion College portends that: Nothing will ever be the same.”
Dr. Dick then called to the podium the College student, Aura Ware, a member of the College’s Class of 2022, who would be introducing the event’s keynote speaker.
Ware made her journey to Albion College from Memphis, Tennessee. She is majoring in psychology and English, and is an officer in Albion College’s Black Student Alliance. “A second-year student, Aura has made her presence felt on campus and in the community through her pen,” Dr. Dick stated. “She has published in The Pleiad, The Albion Recorder, and Io Triumphe, whose current issue features Aura’s article, ‘Home Is Where My People Are,’ a moving account of the 2019 Black Alumni Chapter reunion. Working with Dr. Harry Bonner’s ‘Kids at Hope,’ Aura has established deep roots in the Albion community. Aura’s commitment to justice makes her an ideal choice to introduce our honored guest, Judge Dannia Edwards.”
Judge Edwards went on to encourage those present:
“We must as a people become color brave. Black, White, Brown, Red, Yellow people, all people, must start having candid conversations about race and racial relations so that we can better understand each other’s perspective and experiences, which will result in our making better decisions and securing better prospects and consequences for our future generations.”
The Honorable Dannia L. Edwards, a district court judge in Minnesota’s First Judicial District, is a 1983 graduate of Albion College. Her address, “Justice Delayed…” pivots off a famous quote of King’s: “Justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
As a long-time criminal defense attorney, these words always gave her pause, she explained.
Although she recounted many elements of relatively recent African American history – such as President Obama’s election, the Tuskegee Airmen, the Civil Rights Movement, Rosa Parks, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – which appeared to suggest justice being brought to our country’s formerly enslaved people and that they as a people “had arrived” – there were also recent incidents such as the Stand Your Ground, Black Lives Matter, and Me Too movements and immigrant family members being separated that Judge Edwards listed as having the opposite effect on minority populations in this country.
“These stark facts would cause some to be perplexed if not despondent,” she contends.
“We are at a major juncture in America and American life. One that closely resembles the Civil War and the Reconstruction era.
“What would Dr. King say? the speaker challenged the audience before her.
“Would he rejoice or condemn? Justice achieved or denied?
I submit to you, the trajectory at this juncture can be redirected by us…
The jury is still out.”
Judge Edwards went on to encourage those present: “We must as a people become color brave. Black, White, Brown, Red, Yellow people, all people, must start having candid conversations about race and racial relations so that we can better understand each other’s perspective and experiences, which will result in our making better decisions and securing better prospects and consequences for our future generations.”
Mae Ola Dunklin, education chair for the Albion Branch NAACP and an Albion College trustee, came to the podium to present the Branch’s latest scholarships, awarded to four College students who are also Build Albion Fellows: Larenz Hill, Victory Stovall, Cassidy Porter, and Kei’Asianique Hill.
There were many reasons, Edwards said, that she was glad to be back in Albion. One was the chance to stay at the new Courtyard by Marriot hotel in Albion’s once-decimated downtown and see firsthand the people of different backgrounds all enjoying its presence. Next, her campus tour brought home the contrast between today’s Albion College with 200 African American students, which includes people (the Build Albion Fellows, for instance) from Albion and the year 1983 when there were only 30 Black students, none of whom were from Albion.
And judging by the smiles on their faces after the convocation ended and much picture-taking was going on inside the Bohm, Edwards also enjoyed reuniting with fellow College alum Milton Barnes!
Later in the program, Mae Ola Dunklin, education chair for the Albion Branch NAACP and an Albion College trustee, came to the podium to present the Branch’s latest scholarships, awarded to four College students who are also Build Albion Fellows: Larenz Hill, Victory Stovall, Cassidy Porter, and Kei’Asianique Hill.
Given the recent announcement by Dr. Ditzler that this will be his last academic year before he retires as Albion College President and his reflections on that during his earlier remarks, Dunklin made sure to pay him special tribute.
“That’s ‘The Man’ over there,” she quipped. “‘The Man,’ Mauri Ditzler, the president of Albion College who’s sitting right there, we want to give him accolades tonight for how great Albion is right now. We can – and have to – do it together!”
Michelle is the author of the book Mr. Bonner: The Story of a Mentoring Journey, which was released in 2019. She has written for The Recorder, the Albion College Io Triumphe magazine, and she is an enthusiastic scrapbooker in her spare time. See more articles by Michelle Mueller here: www.albionmich.net/writer-mueller/
This story is reprinted with permission from The Recorder.
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