2019 MLK Jr. Celebration Breakfast featuring Vaughn A. Booker, Jr., Ph.D.

By | August 31, 2019


Good morning. On behalf of President Hanlon and the Office
of Human Resources, it’s my great pleasure to welcome you all. It’s wonderful to see many of you here today
as we gather to celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I hope that you’ve been enjoying the great
food provided by the Hanover Inn, and that you’re having a chance to meet some new colleagues
from across campus. This year marks the 12th year that we have
provided this breakfast as an opportunity for staff and faculty to come together to
recognize the work and legacy of Dr. King. It’s also an opportunity to contemplate and
reflect on Dartmouth’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, and what we can do within our
own roles at Dartmouth to appreciate difference and make our workplace and community welcoming
to all. Before I introduce today’s featured speaker,
Professor Von A. Booker, Jr, I’m delighted to introduce Evelynn Ellis, Vice President
for Institutional Diversity and Inclusion and Equity. She will perform Lift Every Voice and Sing. Please join me in welcoming Evelynn and Ryan
Tucker, who will be accompanying her on the piano. Now you know what we’re going to do. But for the newbies, this is the way it works. The first two verses I and Ryan
will present. On the third verse, you’re going to jump up
with joy, and you’re going to join us. And if you’re saying “It’s early in the morning”
think about how early it is for me. Lift every voice and sing, Till earth and heaven ring, Ring with the harmonies of Liberty; Let our rejoicing rise High as the list’ning skies, Let it resound loud as the rolling sea. Sing a song full of the faith that the dark
past has taught us, Sing a song full of the hope that the present
has brought us; Facing the rising sun of our new day begun, Let us march on till victory is won. Stony the road we trod, Bitter the chast’ning rod, Felt in the days when hope unborn had died; Yet with a steady beat, Have not our weary feet Come to the place for which our people sighed? We have come over a way that with tears has
been watered. We have come, treading our path through the
blood of the slaughtered, Out from the gloomy past, Till now we stand at last Where the white gleam of our bright star is
cast. God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way; Thou who hast by Thy might, Led us into the light, Keep us forever in the path, we pray. Lest our feet stray from the places, our God,
where we met Thee, Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the
world, we forget Thee; Shadowed beneath Thy hand, May we forever stand, True to our God, True to our native land. Thank you Ryan, thank you Evelynn. As many of you know, we like to have a member
of the Dartmouth community as a guest speaker. This year’s guest speaker has a great deal
to offer on this year’s theme of Standing on the Threshold. Professor Von A Booker, Jr. Serves as the
Assistant Professor in the Department of Religion Program in African and African American Studies
at Dartmouth College. His research focuses on African American religious
history in the 20th century. His first book, Lift Every Voice and Swing:
Black Artistry and Religious Movement in the Jazz Century, currently under contract with
the New York University Press, will explore the emergence of new race representatives
in the jazz profession. The expressions of believe, practice, and
unconventional positions of religious authority for these women and men reveal how they foster
a new arena and spokespersons for African American religious influence beyond traditional
Black Protestant institutions and religious life. His second book project will explore religion
and humor by centering those who have belonged irreverently to religious traditions in African
American history. At Dartmouth, Professor Von teaches in the
areas of African American religion and culture during Jim Crow, religion in the Civil Rights
Movement, American religious perspectives on death and memorialization, religious conversion,
and contemporary African American religious and spiritual memoirs. Raised in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, he received
his Bachelor of Arts in Religion from Dartmouth College, class of 2007. His Master of Divinity from Harvard University,
and his Master of Arts and Ph.D. from Princeton University with a certificate in African American
studies. Please join me in welcoming today’s guest
speaker, Professor Von A. Booker, Jr. Good morning. Good morning. I hope you can all hear me well and are well-fed. So I first give thanks to Evelynn Ellis for
this opportunity and for her celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. this year. I also give thanks to Charity [Terema 00:08:14]
for coordinating this invitation. And I am also very, very happy that my mother,
Taryn Gainor, right here, was able to weather the storm to travel up here for this occasion. So thank you, Mom. I’m currently teaching what’s likely to become
one of my favorite course offerings for college students. A course titled Religion and the Civil Rights
Movement. One of the many religious activists from the
movement that the students and I discuss in this course is the United Methodist pastor
Reverend James Lawson, currently 90 years old. And I would argue that if there had been no
Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, we might view James Lawson as the great, Black, Christian
proponent of non-violent resistance of the American Century in the global tradition of
Mahatma Gandhi. I will begin with a quote from Lawson a few
years ago as he recorded a series of videos about activism for the online presence of
the United Methodist Church. “I think the human species was created primarily
to learn to work. Physical work, intellectual work, artistic
work, community work, social work. We have to work as human beings because it
feeds our dignity. It feeds our sense of making a contribution. It feeds our sense of taking care of ourselves. So all work has dignity to it, is what Martin
King said. And so work is not primarily for wages, but
we ought to be able to benefit from our work. Especially the work that we do outside of
the home in the larger community.” This will be a series of meditations on the
concept of the dignity of labor. A professional life that involved creative
flourishing marked my earliest exposure to work. Principally through my mother, Karen Gainor,
who was my first preschool teacher. Noir D’Arte was the name of Mom’s business
as she balanced homemaking and her own entrepreneurial endeavors. A business where Mom acquired, framed, and
sold paintings of African American subjects and cultural scenes afforded me more than
important exposure to the production of Black visual culture. Our basement, where her home was, became an
arena for a young mind to explore the literal craftwork and metrics of a home business. The matte cutter, a sharp framing instrument,
was one of my favorite non-standard toys. Before I began messing around with the photocopier
of my father Von Senior. Learning the art of precision, as I now gather,
trained a young mind in patience and the potential to feel rewarded for one’s labors. Because I had demonstrated that I was able
to measure and cut materials without injuring myself, Mom permitted me the use of her tools
and her inventory of matting materials for elementary and middle school class projects. Mom’s art of salesmanship, a compelling goodwill
representation of one’s self and one’s wares, was on display when showcasing her framings
at flea markets: reliable fixtures of American independent commerce. Making yearly trips with Mom to flea markets
also fed my early interest in coin collecting. A hobby that ironically centers the very material
commerce no longer in circulation as standard tender, but still circulating with particular
stories of its historical meaning, attached to defining American moments, travel, and
family legends. Most vivid for me, are the memories of annual
weekend trips to the George Washington Carver Community Center in [Norsetown 00:11:53],
Pennsylvania. This was a world where I encountered Mom’s
network of fellow African American entrepreneurs. Those who produced visual art, jewelry, clothing,
literature, food, and more. And who also sought to ensure the local viability
of their labor as both professional work and artwork as a hallmark of a generation that
maintained the popular work of the Black Arts Movement. These Carver Center weekends were also gatherings
that featured singing, dancing, and story-telling for children. Providing myself and others a sense of the
folk traditions from West Africa and the American South as modern story-tellers valued them
for our moral formation. It was at the Carver Center at these many
convention gatherings and social reunions, that I and other young minds experienced physical
work, intellectual work, artistic work, community work, social work that fed the minds and hands
that created it with a sense of dignity as Lawson proposed. And it fed their sense of making a contribution
and shaping a world for future generations. To me now, as a kind of professional story-teller,
theirs as art was the aspirational work of modern life beyond the seemingly more mundane
or what some might call unskilled occupations one could have. While my parents had acquired advanced degrees,
their lives had been formed by family histories of folks denied those opportunities. As their parents and grandparents represented
African American histories of factory, custodial, domestic, military, share-cropping, and enslaved
labor, as well as secretarial and corner store work in the middle of the 20th century. My parents’ own pursuit of advanced degrees
necessarily entailed additional work to support their own growing family, as well as an extended
family of relatives in need. Where producing income in Pittsburgh steel
mills, fast food restaurants, and toy stores were necessary components of graduate school
and professional examination periods of study. Something I learned early is that everyone
needed to work in some capacity. And the unfortunate reality for me, being
two years younger than my older sister Tamia, was that I naturally learned how to do something
when she learned how it. This involved learning my ABC’s, learning
about racial prejudices, and learning how to do housework well. Most vividly for me this means that by third
grade I was at the age to learn to clean the kitchen, wash dishes, do my own laundry, wash
walls, and clean the bathroom in alternating weekend shifts with Tamia. Cutting the grass with the push mower and
weeding gardens also occurred around the same period. As well as snow shoveling responsibilities
in the winter. These are the mid-Atlantic realities of experiencing
four genuine seasons. And God help you if you have seasonal allergies
as I do. A paper route marked my elementary school
years and employment in the local mall McDonald’s characterized my teenage years. A required backdrop to study and extra-curricular
work. I will always remember the night of my A.P.
History exam in 11th grade. What felt to me like the most important moment
in my life up to that point, where Mom paused my study to make sure that I’d remembered
to mop the kitchen floor. Seemingly now long ago, when I first considered
vocational exploration of pastoral ministry, my home church pastor Gerald Chapman first
tasked me with cleaning all of the church bathrooms. At home, and in the prospective intellectual
and vocational worlds, labor was essential for my moral cultivation and a central presence
in my life so that I would bring with me an experiential understanding of those who must
do this work to support themselves and others. I do maintain that among my three siblings
I am the most thorough bathroom cleaner. Mom, you’re staying with me this weekend. You can either confirm or deny if that’s true. While cleaning up after myself is still a
regular task, it’s formative value shapes the focus of my teaching and research as I
consider the ways that others in history have made spiritual meaning of that which they
must often do materially to materially sustain themselves and others. As I mentioned, I’m currently teaching Religion
in the Civil Rights Movement and religious activists certainly considered themselves
to be in a tradition where moral discourse was a viable vehicle for achieving just social,
political, and economic ends. As Martin Luther King, Jr looked forward,
the lessons of the Montgomery Bus Boycott as the pursuit of workers fairness were clear. His memoir of the boycott stride toward freedom. He advocated equal access to employment, and
the dispelling of false notions of racial superiority that prevented interracial solidarity. King wrote, “The law cannot make an employer
love me. But it can keep him from refusing to hire
me because of the color of my skin. We must depend on religion and education to
alter the errors of the heart and mind. But meanwhile, it is an immoral act to compel
a man to accept injustice until another man’s heart is set straight. And as King taught, anti-discrimination laws
can provide powerful sanctions against this kind of immorality.” It may not always register in the public imagination
that Martin Luther King, the Civil Rights activist like many others, had a day job. One that involved pastoral care, counseling,
and leadership. The prominence and high demand that he would
achieve as a public figure in the 1950’s and 1960’s certainly took him away from the day-to-day
tasks of pastoral ministry, but that did not erase the training he had put into his ministerial
life. The mentoring of established ministers like
his father, Martin Luther King Sr, and others like J. Pius Barbour, or the focused study
in his seminary education for the pastorate. As a student at Crozer Theological Seminary
from 1948 to 1951, King devoted significant intellectual work to thinking theologically
about the morality of economic systems. He anticipated for a time that his engagement
in public as a preacher would involve a moral message about God and money. Or as he preached in an earlier sermon, “How
to push America to create a more moral form of capitalism.” This becomes relevant with the previous King
quotes from [Stride 00:18:27], because his Montgomery activism concerned African American
access to jobs that immoral practices in a racists system prevented. Requiring the moral-suasion of Christian,
non-violent resistance of African American women and men to call attention to unequal
social and economic arrangements in America that required concrete legislative and judicial
responses. King continued, “Both Negro and White workers
are equally oppressed. For both, the living standards need to be
raised to levels consistent with our national resources. Not logic, but a hollow social distinction
has separated the races. The economically depressed White accepts his
poverty by telling himself that, if in no other respect, at least socially he is above
the Negro. For this empty pride and racial myth, he has
paid the crushing price of insecurity, hunger, ignorance, and hopelessness for himself and
his children. The organized labor movement, which has contributed
so much to the economic security and wellbeing of millions, must concentrate its powerful
forces on bringing economic emancipation to White and Negro by organizing them together
in social equality.” So the intellectual and artistic work of the
sermon and Movement Memoir, and the labor of King and others who saw themselves as civil
rights activists and theorists, served to strive toward what they considered a “beloved”
community of a more just and more socially and economically moral nation. King, the religious activist, adopted the
historian’s eagle-eye view of the work of the Black Freedom Movement in the 1950s. He took a look to the future in a 1957 address
to characterize his contemporaries’ current threshold. With the Brown v Board of Education ruling,
King wrote, “We find ourselves standing on the threshold of the third and most constructive
period in the development of race relations in the history of our nation. To put it in biblical terms, we have broken
loose from the Egypt of slavery. We have moved through the wilderness of separate
but equal. And now we stand on the border of the Promised
Land of integration.” As King encouraged his audience. “The great moral challenge that confronts
each of us at this moment is to work passionately and unrelentingly for the complete realization
of the ideals and principles in this third period. We must not rest until segregation and discrimination
have been liquidated from every area of our nation’s life. As we stand at the threshold of this third
period of race relations, we notice two contradictory forces at work in the South: the forces of
defiance, and the forces of compliance. On the one hand, we notice a resurgence of
the Ku Klux Klan and the rise of White Citizen’s Counsels. On the other hand, we notice constructive
forces at work seeking to create a new respect for human dignity.” I lift up activist optimism as the expression
of King when he and thousands of other women and men stood at the threshold of great social
change in the 1950s United States. In a ’56 address titled The Birth of a New
Age, he preached a message that certainly resonates in our current moment. “Those of us who lived in the 20th century
are privileged to live in one of the most momentous periods of human history. It is an exciting age filled with hope. We stand between two worlds: the dying old,
and the emerging new. I am aware of the fact that there are those
that argue we live in the most ghastly period of human history. They would argue that we are going backwards
instead of forward. That we are retrogressing instead of progressing. But far from representing retrogression or
tragic hopelessness, the present tension represents the necessary pains that accompany the birth
of anything new. The present tension represents the necessary
pains that accompany the birth of anything new. It is both historically and biologically true
that there can be without birth and growing pains. Wherever there is the emergence of new, and
the fading of the old, that is historically true. And so the tensions we witness in the world
today are indicative of the fact that a new world is being born and an old world is passing
away.” Activist work represented an optimistic orientation
to present crisis. The labor to render such a crisis as a nexus,
a time and place of tension before the transition into a better age. This type of labor required one’s decision
to look at the resistance to progress in its effective and enforced meanness, it’s rhetorical
vitriol, it’s legal and extra-legal brutality, and to declare seemingly against rational
evidence and reasoned fear that social good is coming into being beyond the visible threshold. This is the commitment to remake a world that
requires personal, social, economic, and political risks. Risks that resonate with those who seek out
a beloved community when they journey to a new land, when they journey into the affirmation
of a personal identity that others have denied value or condemned, or when the commit to
a new sense of self on behalf of helping others to find wholeness. In this latter case, I do refer to the creative
and arduous personal work of those in the jazz profession like the artist Mary Lou Williams. Someone I focus on in my forthcoming book
on jazz, race, religion in the 20th century. Mary Lou Williams was a professional jazz
musician, Roman Catholic convert, and African American woman who managed a New York thrift
shop and worked with persistent diligence to establish the Bel Canto Foundation to support
musicians in need. Her work represented more than any conventional
notions of mundane daily labor. With this work, she strived to forge a new
sense of community between jazz artists and broader societies. She as an entrepreneurial newcomer and religious
newcomer whose primary musical profession likely prevented established social service
organizations, prospective financiers, and Catholic authorities from taking her efforts
seriously enough to support her mission robustly. By day, she’d manage her foundation’s daily
affairs with the local operation of a thrift shop and maintaining correspondences with
potential donors. By night, she was a professional jazz pianist
and composer traveling to perform and produce new music. She was a successful African American jazz
professional. She was anything but a novice in her musical
profession. Williams had charted a path to prominence
within the jazz community, confident in her ability to manage a substantial project like
this foundation because she had secured revenue for herself through the on-going retrieval
and management of her composition copyrights. As a consequence, while she as a newcomer
to the Roman Catholic faith, she strived to become more than a regular parishioner in
her new Catholic community. To Williams, joy was the musician’s gift. The emotional result of innovative, creative
jazz. She said, “I think it is pretty well recognized
by now that jazz music is contributing lots of joy to many people.” Williams made the critical assertion that
the production of jazz music established relationships between those who labored to make jazz, and
those who enjoyed it as consumers. She declared that people were responsible
for reciprocating a gift to musicians saying, “Some happiness and fulfillment must be brought
to the jazz musicians and the others in that group.” When she returned to Harlem from an extended
soul-searching stay in Europe, Williams encountered the reality of fellow jazz musicians unsuccessful
in their pursuits of happiness regarding either their states of mind or their lack of material
security. “As a jazz collective,” she wrote, “it is
sadly a misunderstood group. They disappear and nobody knows what becomes
of them. Many are in hospitals, in jail, in all kinds
of unhappy situations.” Williams regarded it her goal to alleviate
musicians’ poverty and aid their recovery from narcotic addictions, deeming them our
people, and wishing to encounter the propensity for many to resort to the unnamed extremes
that lead to their trouble. Her professional community contained meaningful
relationships beyond blood relations. Before she transitioned into what would become
her interracial Catholic community, she had always been attached to her immediate family
and relatives whom her professional successes supported. Consequently, she rethought the nature of
her relationship to her professional community. Within the community of instrumental jazz
artists she diagnosed a professional neglect of those musicians who needed material sustenance
or psychological support. She saw that music’s dignifying power was
that it was a gift with emotional potential and to give music was to provide a service
to others. In turn, a community of beneficiaries must
provide for its creative element to prevent financial security, alleviate emotional despondency,
or nurse and combat hard substance abuse. She sought to instill her jazz community with
a sense of accountability. Her orientation toward the communal responsibility
of wealthy individuals mirrored her personal habits as a celebrated artist. Given her own desires for personal luxuries
on the one hand along side the need to provide financial support for relatives on a weekly
basis on the other. Her care for family members represented her
sense of accountability to kin. And now was the moment to establish an ethos
of accountability by institutionalizing the care of marginalized musicians. Williams strived to provide musicians their
own contemplative creative space through her daily labor. Some of those musicians she aided made daily
journeys into her Catholic community through mass attendance, priestly consultations, and
correspondences with herself. For many other jazz musicians in need, her
tireless labor served as the financial and communal intermediary between personal and
emotional destitution and professional stability. She sought to create a new social institution
with a new understanding of her divine calling. Beyond making new Catholic converts, she labored
to revive jazz creativity to forge good and joyful jazz music. Through her tireless labor Mary Lou Williams
advocated, or preached, the dignity of jazz musicians’ work. In closing, I imagine that in his divinely
attuned theory of humankind, his theological anthropology, Reverend James Lawson was recalling
the remarks that King preached in his later years. Echoing one 1965 sermon that King delivered
on the American Dream at his home church, Ebeneezer Baptist in Atlanta. To the congregation King preached, “What makes
a job menial? I’m tired of this stuff about menial labor. What makes it menial is that we don’t pay
folk anything. Give somebody a job, and pay them some money,
so that they can live and educate their children and buy a home and have the basic necessities
of life. And no matter what the job is, it takes on
dignity. I submit to you, when I took off on that plane
this morning I saw men go out there in their overalls. I saw them working on things here and there. And saw some more men going out there to put
breakfasts on there so that we could eat on our way to Atlanta. And I said to myself that these people who
constitute the Ground Crew are just as significant as the pilot because this plane couldn’t move
if you didn’t have the Ground Crew.” “I submit to you that in Hugh Spalding or
Grady Hospital, the woman or the man who goes out there to sweep the floor is just as significant
as the doctor. Because if he doesn’t get that dust off the
floor germs will begin to circulate. And those same germs can do injury and harm
to the human being. I submit to you this morning that there is
dignity in all work when we learn to pay people decent wages. Whoever cooks in your house, whoever sweeps
the floor in your house is just as significant as anybody who lives in that house. And everybody that we call a maid is serving
God in a significant way. And I love the maids. I love the people who have been ignored. And I want to see them get the kind of wages
that they need. And their job is no longer a menial job for
you come to see its worth and its dignity.” He continues, “Are we really taking this thing
seriously? All men are created equal. And that means that every man who lives in
a slum today is just as significant as John D. Nelson or any other Rockefeller. Every man who lives in the slum is just as
significant as Henry Ford.” I’ll return once more to Lawson, the minister
who would echo King. Quoting him, “The laborer deserves his wages. I think the wages of the people who do the
work is an essential ingredient of justice and community.” Today, the nature of labor now shifts at an
increasing pace. And this shifting effects whether individuals,
families, and communities can survive and thrive with the dignity that human work affords
our species. Or if they must struggle. The religious activists of the long Black
Freedom Movement were aware of this. Having made moral arguments for equal treatment
under the law, and equitable economic opportunity since the end of the Civil War. Even the religious jazz professionals knew
the value of dignified labor and worked so that religious institutions, like the Catholic
Church, would commit to the betterment of peoples’ lives in this regard. These pasts, personal, activist, and musical,
all tell their own stories of the dignity inherent in human work and human labor. With these pasts, and those of countless others,
we benefit from more than enough evidence and foundation for government, consumer companies,
entertainment industries, and even educational institutions to continue Martin Luther King’s
work of recognizing the moral work of efforts to ensure that today people can survive, take
care of others, and thrive on the work that they do no matter what it is. Thank you. Professor Booker, thank you for those inspiring
remarks. Before we close, I would like to recognize
the work of many that have contributed to this morning’s event. Please help me by thanking the Hanover Inn
staff, the many folks in Conference Events, Media Production Group, and Human Resources. Additionally, I’d like to give special thanks
to Evelynn Ellis and Ryan Tucker for sharing their musical talents. Again, to Professor Booker for speaking to
us today. To the Institutional Diversity and Equity,
and Conferences and Special Events for their leadership in arranging an amazing program
and events to celebrate the life of and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I encourage all of you to take a look online
at www.Dartmouth.edu/MLK to view the many inspiring events that will be going on this
week and over the next few weeks. Thank you for coming this morning, have a
great day.

One thought on “2019 MLK Jr. Celebration Breakfast featuring Vaughn A. Booker, Jr., Ph.D.

  1. Taryn G Post author

    Congratulations Vaughn J! Excellent work. I am so proud of you. Looking forward to your book!

    Reply

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