Re-examining King's Legacy

Two civil rights speakers to address past, present and future of activism


In Washington, D.C., President Barack Obama and his cabinet marked Martin Luther King Jr. Day by volunteering in shelters and soup kitchens. In Idaho, Gov. C. L. "Butch" Otter read a proclamation encouraging community service and volunteerism to commemorate Idaho Human Rights Day.

But two civil-rights veterans coming to Boise this week will speak of the legacy of King in a different way.

While Obama was handing out hot meals, Cornel West, a fiery orator and professor of religion and African American studies at Princeton University preached to an Atlanta crowd: "I don't want to sanitize Martin Luther King Jr. I don't want to sterilize Martin Luther King Jr. I don't want to deodorize Martin Luther King Jr. I want some funk in Brother Martin, I want to keep it real with Brother Martin."

And Joseph McNeil, a soft spoken Air Force veteran who helped spark the student sit-in movement when he sat at a whites-only lunch counter at the Greensboro, N.C., Woolworth's in 1960, told BW of his one meeting with King.

"He energized the SCLC [Southern Christian Leadership Council] to become more active and more involved in the sit-ins," McNeil said of his strategy session with King. "They were taken by surprise that the sit-ins were happening and were happening so spontaneously."

McNeil is the speaker at the annual American Civil Liberties Union Bill of Rights Dinner on Sat., Jan. 23. West speaks Monday, Jan. 25, at Boise State, providing the keynote address to a week of MLK events. (See BW event listings for details.)