“Silence in the face of violence, is evil itself.” Just an example of one famous quote paraphrased by Clarence B. Jones, who spoke at the University of Michigan this past Monday. It was an honor to hear Jones speak on the day of remembrance for his friend and ally of the Civil Rights Movement, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. During that historic time period, Jones was considered one of the closest political and influential confidantes of Dr. King. Serving as adviser, lawyer, draft speech writer, and friend, few knew him better.
In a brilliant and authentic display of oration, Jones proclaimed, “Except for Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, Martin Luther King Jr. in 12 years and 4 months from 1956 to 1968, did more to achieve political, economic, and social justice in America than any other event or person in the previous 400 years.” It seems almost inconceivable, that during a time of racial oppression, lack of social media or internet, and limited popular support, that one man could amass such a following that would change the course of history in this great nation.
Listening to first-person testimonials about the week leading up to the famous “I Have A Dream” speech, opposition to the Vietnam War, and the “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, would have seemed to be enough. However, Jones also weaved a story of anti-violence together, calling to arms action against inaction. He implored the audience to realize the world of violence has many faces, and lies beneath society’s eyes like molten lava. It does not have to be fatal to affect communities. The need for a fierce urgency to make investments toward improving the quality of life, a non-violent future. In the words of Dr. King, “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate.”
Lastly, Jones reflected on his feelings when President Barack Obama was first elected as President of the United States in 2008. After succumbing to a rush of emotion, tears filled his eyes. Not for the electoral results, but tears for all those people who made that election possible. Without the collective work of the Civil Rights Movement and sacrifices of millions, we would have never seen such history made. I cannot emphasize enough the goosebumps that appeared on the audience’s skin when listening to the methodical, yet emotional reaction delved so rich in the history of the Civil Rights Movement. To think he stood side by side with arguably the most influential person from American history regarding civil rights was awe inspiring.
When asked, “Who today is most like Martin Luther King Jr?” Jones answered with a rhetorical question, “Who today is most like Shakespeare, like Leonardo Da Vinci, like Michelangelo? No one.”
Andy Mychkovsky is a first year HMP student at the School of Public Health.