Barack Obama's election does not indicate that America has become a "post-racial society," according to Locksley Edmondson, professor of African and Caribbean politics and international relations.
Speaking Jan. 19 at the 15th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Celebration in the Beverly J. Martin Elementary School gym, Edmondson said that "the memory and meaning of King is haunting Barack when he accedes to the office [of president]."
"While many people are looking to Obama in the present and the future to help pull this country back into some sort of sense when so much senselessness has been going on over the last few years," said Edmondson, "[I want] to suggest that a lot of the celebration and recognition about Obama's impending presidency is also a recognition ... of where this country came from."
More than 100 people of all ages crowded into the luncheon portion of the event, set just one day before the first African-American president's inauguration. The event included a free lunch and live jazz music as well as speakers Ellen Baer, administrative director of the Telluride Association, a scholarship house and nonprofit organization just off campus, and Africana Studies and Research Center librarian Eric Acree.
Edmondson spoke emphatically about King's activism, noting that the history of social injustice in this country is and has been "a constructive attempt to try to help America elevate itself to the heights that were a part of [its plan] in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and it [has been] a building process from then on."
Baer highlighted the connection between Obama and King. She said that although Obama and King "are very different, their hopes and dreams for the people of this country are very similar. They share a clear bright vision of the future based on hope and on our true humanity."
Acree noted the importance of community and described the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Build to inform the Ithaca community about the teachings of King. "Part of our mission is to engage all sectors of the community in realizing that King says, and I quote, 'We are tied together in the single garment of destiny.'"
Part of the plans for this project is to have a community book reading of one of King's last books, he said, and the namesake for the day's theme, "Where Do We Go From Here, Chaos or Community?" The book has been out of print, but the project includes plans to print some 5,000 copies and hand them out free to the Ithaca community.
The day was organized by numerous community organizations, including the CRESP Center for Transformative Action, Cornell Public Service Center, Campus Life and Cornell Cooperative Extension.
Sarah Palmer '10 is a writer intern at the Cornell Chronicle.