America has come far in the 50 years since the high-water mark of the struggle for civil rights, but obstacles remain for all people to enjoy equality, author and radio host Michael Eric Dyson told a Franklin & Marshall College audience Feb. 27.
An MSNBC political analyst, author and professor of sociology at Georgetown University, Dyson spoke during F&M's Common Hour, a community discussion held every Thursday during the academic year. His talk also was part of the College's second annual Civil Rights Week, organized by a group of F&M students.
Dyson started his conversation with the large audience in Mayser Gymnasium by recalling the speech Martin Luther King Jr. made during the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C., that defined the national movement for racial, social and economic equality.
"Yet, after that speech, four girls were blown up in Alabama," Dyson said, referring to the four black girls who were killed in the bombing of a Birmingham church a couple of weeks after King's speech.
"We have come so far from that time," he said. "Justice is the articulation of the goal of love."
An ordained Baptist minister, Dyson's talk on today's struggle for civil rights touched on issues ranging from music lyrics to sexuality to politics.
Marking one step in the journey toward equality -- from King's assassination in 1968 to Barack Obama's election to the presidency in 2008 -- Dyson said the nation made a momentous transformation in race relations.
"To elect the first black president to the United States of America is an extraordinary thing," he said. "This is the most famous black man ever to live in public housing. It's not Section 8 [federal housing for the poor] … but it's the crib you want to have," Dyson said, drawing a laugh from the audience.
Dyson sprinkled his speech with humor and song, punctuating points with popular rap, hip-hop, R&B and country lyrics. He professed a love for Hank Williams and other country music singers.
"They all got great music, which is why I love them," he said.
Dyson then urged his fellow African Americans to recognize that the struggle for equal rights is no different in others, in particular the gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual community.
"Some people in the freedom struggle don't want to give up the copyright," Dyson said. "You don't have to be black to want to be free."
A first-generation student who was raised in a poor family, Dyson told young black students not to worry about losing their cultural or personal identify as they develop into young professionals in a predominantly white American culture. "It doesn't mean you're a sell-out," he said. "It means you're a buy-in."
After the talk, Julia Siegal, a junior public health major, said she thought Dyson was courageous for telling the audience that they must see justice through the eyes of others and not just their own perspective.
"You don't hear a lot of people taking it from a 360-degree view," Siegal said.
Darrius Moore, a senior sociology major and former vice president of F&M's Black Student Union, which invited Dyson to speak, said Dyson's talk complimented last year's Civil Rights Week speaker, activist and scholar Cornel West, who sounded similar themes.
"I think what most impressed me was his idea of seeking justice by understanding others," Moore said. "And of seeking justice for more than just the people within your own community."