The event, which was part of Emmanuel’s “Through the Wire” series, filled the lecture hall from wall to wall. The Office of Diversity and Inclusion and Multicultural Programs hosted the event and invited King, who has written extensively in the scope of the Black Lives Matter movement, to speak to the Emmanuel community.
“I literally owned my own megaphone,” said King about his time in college. “I was that guy.”
While at Morehouse, King studied history, and he later became a high school history and civics teacher, a position that he says significantly shaped his writing style.
“I write from the perspective of a teacher,” King said. “I never want you to read what I write and come away confused about something.”
King also used his teacher-student approach in his lecture when engaging with the Emmanuel community.
“Tonight I really hope to teach you something: to teach you a lesson; to give you a tool—a lens—though which to see the society that we’re in,” King said. “I hope that you’ll leave inspired.”
To begin his presentation, King explored the teachings of Leopold von Ranke, a German historian credited with establishing history as an academic discipline.
To give historical context to his lecture, King explained that von Ranke’s research sought to build a timeline of humanity. In von Ranke’s 35-year-long study, he noticed that most people believed that humanity was getting better and better as time went on. By contrast, von Ranke’s research led him to conclude that although technology improved steadily over time, the same was not true for the quality of humanity—of people.
King explained that technology improved at a steady incline, but humanity underwent a series of “peaks and valleys” throughout history.
In reflecting on findings from von Ranke’s research, King recalled “Sometimes human beings were amazing. And sometimes human beings were terrible.”
King explained that von Ranke’s research referred to periods with no war, no famine, no colonialism, etc. as peaks of humanity throughout history.
“It was not human perfection; that’s not what I’m arguing; that’s not what [von Ranke] argued,” King said. “But [von Ranke] found periods where, by-and-large, human beings got along—where they were cooperative and collaborative.”
King said that, considering von Ranke’s research and his conclusion of how humanity changes over time, it is important to reflect on the quality of our humanity today.
King spoke about his coverage of the Black Lives Matter movement, discussing issues of social injustice, hate crime and police brutality. King also discussed the mass incarceration of black Americans, referencing the book by legal scholar Michelle Alexander called The New Jim Crow and a Netflix documentary called 13th, both of which he recommended to his audience.
King also expressed his hopefulness in a brighter future. “Frustration is really a form of inspiration.” He also emphasized the importance of activism to advocate for social justice and to affect change, saying that we live in an especially consequential time.
“You do not accidentally find your way up this hill,” King said. “It takes organization, it takes effort, it takes energy, it takes strategy.”
King concluded by answering an array of questions from students, faculty and alumni, which lasted over an hour.
Click here to watch a recording of the event, including a one-on-one interview with King conducted by BuzzFeed’s Andrew Kimmel.