Ashlyn Curley – 1851 Staff
In celebration of February’s Black History Month, sociologist Dr. Charles Willie, the Charles William Eliot Professor of Education, Emeritus at Harvard University, spoke in deWitt Hall on February 26, to discuss the “perfect grassroots movement,” the Montgomery, Ala. bus boycott led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“It’s something you have heard about, but most of you were probably not around when it happened,” said Willie. “I’m using this too because I think it is an example of how you can bring about change…without harming anybody.” Willie explained the events which caused the boycott, the most famous event being the arrest of Rosa Parks.
The Montgomery bus boycott was a nonviolent movement, despite the violence by those who disagreed. Its nonviolent nature is what got so much attention and brought the issue of segregation to the Supreme Court. However, the participants weren’t fighting against segregation in the first place; they wanted the bus seating to be first come, first serve.
“This is going to be a decision you are going to have to make,” said Willie. “And you’re not going to know when it’s going to come. And you’re going to have to make up your mind—is the goal that you want worthy of harming another person?” Willie explained people must figure out how to get what they need while fulfilling the needs of others.
Willie mentioned his grandfather was a slave, but he didn’t remember him. However, Willie’s parents, who were raised a generation after slavery was abolished, taught him the importance of an education. He went to school until he knew what he was going to do with his education.
The presentation was sponsored by the Departments of Communication, Education, Social Science, Justice, and Legal Studies, as well as the Donahue Institute for Values and Public Life.