Look at the year 1968. Dr. King touched the campus without ever visiting in the flesh.
To mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, faculty and alumni share their perspectives on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Margaret Bush Wilson Professor in Arts & Sciences
One of the greatest honors that Washington University has bestowed upon me is that I hold the Margaret Bush Wilson professorship. One of her exceptional life experiences included a longstanding friendship with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. On more than one occasion she exclaimed, “he was so much more than a dreamer; he was a man of profound action.” She routinely recounted occasions, including some when Dr. King was a guest in her home, when he formulated strategic acts of political engagement, all supporting his nonviolent quest to overcome racial discrimination born of slavery. It was Margaret Bush Wilson’s fervent hope that Americans from all walks of life would eventually come to recognize that Dr. King’s greatest legacy is based upon his exceptional deeds far more than the ethereal aspirations of the as-yet-unfulfilled dream that has become the iconic hallmark of his quest to eradicate racial injustice and social inequality.
Jeffrey Q. McCune, Jr.
Associate professor of women, gender, and sexuality studies and performing arts
I believe that the March on Washington's emphasis on poverty and jobs is consistently overlooked. In this country, the university is a major site which offers opportunities to further mobilize folks who have been inheritors of injustice and discrimination. Universities all over the country, aligning with the legacy of those who marched, can open their doors in novel and innovative ways. Washington University has began to address economic inequalities amongst our students; looking at closely at how the institution may aid in assisting brilliant, yet underprivileged students, those students who wear the face of Dr. King and Coretta, and all who seek academic advancement in the face of inequality and limited access. As a professor here, I am proud to see the university take such steps, and I truly hope that the larger community, those who support our institution, and students themselves appreciate this new direction in thinking about the centrality of educational access. In addition, I believe that university is also taking major steps to diversify the faculty and administration; a move that illustrates the value of diverse approaches to research and leadership, as well as the importance of having a faculty which reflects, and maybe even advances beyond, the rest of world. For me, to move beyond the mediocre, expected, or national average, is to fulfill the dream.
Let’s not forget that WUSTL was visited by MLK the same year of his death in ’68. It wasn’t a literal visit, but you could see his ideals alive and at work. Of course, I’m talking about the March on Brookings, which, in many ways, paralleled the March on Washington. We should remember this. There and then, the legacy of Dr. King was reflected in the non-violent motions of disgruntled black students that allowed a Black Studies Department and the Association of Black Students to form. What it really told us, however, was that Dr. King left a blueprint for public black consciousness expressible in non-violent direct action. This blueprint has become standard where pleas for reform go unheard. Even now, we see that the concentrated efforts of a massive collective are sparked by the contribution of select individuals. Look at the year 1968. Dr. King touched the campus without ever visiting in the flesh.