The theme of this year’s Marion Thompson Wright Lecture: Our past is very much present
by Katie Singer/February 27, 2017
City Moves: Black Urban History Since 1967 was the theme of this year’s Marion Thompson Wright Lecture. The 37th in a series that was developed by the late Dr. Clement Price and historian Giles Wright, it was yet another challenging, informative, inspiring day at the Robeson Campus Center at Rutgers-Newark.
The large auditorium was full of people of all ages, colors, and costumes. High school groups, community leaders, teachers, and longtime residents gathered together to learn, be validated, and to celebrate and honor the African-American story.
After starting out with the traditional “Negro National Anthem,” (Lift Every Voice and Sing) written by James Weldon Johnson and sung on this day by the most glorious voice of A-Laranée Davis, accompanied by Sterling Overshown’s beautiful piano, the day started. The always insightful Dr. Nancy Cantor, Chancellor of Rutgers University-Newark, set the stage by laying out the “two visions of Newark.”
First up was well-known author and historian Dr. Thomas J. Sugrue, whose topic title was a play on the present administration’s campaign slogan. “Making America 1967 Again: The Unexpected Relevance of America’s Year of Rebellion,” addressed the “unfinished struggle for civil rights.” But even before his talk he duly acknowledged Dr. Marion Thompson Wright herself, a local activist, advocate, scholar, and public historian whose name should be better known in her hometown.
Dr. Alondra Nelson from Columbia University gave one of the most surprising presentations of the day in “Body Moves: The Black Panther Party’s Politics of Health and Race.” It was surprising in that even those who believed they knew a good deal about the Party gained new insights into the Panthers and their “medical self-defense.”
Then came a lunch break–time for people to process what they’d heard alone and with each other. The afternoon session began with Dr. Mary Pattillo from Northwestern University who spoke on “Black Metropolis Revisited.” The book, Black Metropolis, released in 1945, was written by St. Clair Drake and Horace R. Cayton. Subtitled “A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City,” the book became a bible for urban studies throughout that century and into the next.
Powerfully finishing up the day was N.B.D. Connolly, Professor of History at Johns Hopkins University. His talk was entitled “The Property Rights Movement: Black Politics Reframed, Reconsidered” and was a call-to-action as much as an informational lecture. Connolly argued that the “colonial predicament” is an issue as relevant today as in any time in history. And he forwarded this argument through the story of his very own family.
Adjourned, the attendees were invited to the traditional reception–this time at 15 Washington Street. Live music was provided by the Bradford Hayes Trio while people helped themselves to hors d’oeuvres and drinks and did more debriefing with old friends and new acquaintances.
The Marion Thompson Wright Lecture Series is a pilgrimage for many who have been coming since its first convening in 1981. For newcomers it quickly becomes a tradition. One leaves informed, inspired, renewed, and with a knowledge that it truly takes a village – not only to raise a child but also to pursue justice and advocate for love. This was an especially refreshing message and renewing experience during these particular times.
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