[NOTE: Last year at this time, I published a post for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday that focused on my contribution to an assembly commemorating King’s career and significance given at my school on January 16, 1987. This post might have suggested to readers that Atlanta’s Finest Prep School (AFPS) had already successfully made the transition from neglecting King’s contributions to honoring them regularly, but no. . . . And the “problem” was, of all things, academic.]
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In those days, we scheduled first semester final exams for early in January, after the obligatory Christmas break that carried us from late December into the New Year. This meant, of course, that even if AFPS wished to honor Dr. King around the time of his birthday celebration, we were limited because of the need to use whatever time we had in early January to review with our students in preparation for their semester exams.
During the 1999-2000 academic year, I served as Interim Chair of the History Department. When the time came for me to put out the department’s newsletter for January 2000, giving short shrift to Dr. King and his contribution to modern American history, even if our excuse was an “academic” one (i.e., “We simply can’t take the time to honor Dr. King because to do so would interfere with our paramount task of preparing our students for final exams”), was gnawing at me. So, at the conclusion of an editorial recounting my memories of the events on April 4-5, 1968, I added this paragraph:
At this school, where all our students and a growing number of our faculty have no living memory of Dr. King and what he did, we certainly teach about him at the appropriate point in our various courses. Nevertheless, the King holiday and the week of activities related to it are no cause for celebration here. Instead, we use the time to study for, take, and grade final exams. Rather than join the rest of the country each year in wrestling with the question of King’s place in the American story, we hold ourselves aloof, prisoners of an academic calendar that requires us to conclude the Fall semester after Christmas. Dr. King deserves better, and so do we.
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I know you’re probably ahead of me here, but my impassioned editorial plea had no immediate effect on AFPS’s schedule. A few years later, though, we did opt for moving final exams back to before Christmas, again for academic reasons. This opened January for serious consideration of Dr. King’s place in the American pantheon. And we all benefited from the move.
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As you know if you’ve followed this blog for a while, one of the topics I emphasize is “The South and Civil Rights.” This year I’d like to call your attention to two of those posts which, I believe, might help you reflect on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his place in modern American history:
I hope you enjoy them.
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For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject: