Hauenstein Center to welcome guest speaker for MLK Week

GVL / Courtesy - hauensteincenter.org
Christy S. Coleman

GVL / Courtesy – hauensteincenter.org Christy S. Coleman

Drew Schertzer

The American Civil War was fought over the issue of slavery, yet more than 150 years later, some Americans still find themselves intertwined in a battle for equality, proving that important events in the past still influence the present. To discuss these influences, the significance of the Civil War and the work of Martin Luther King Jr., the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies will host Christy Coleman to lead a discussion on how people view history.

The Common Ground Initiative lecture, “How Shall We Remember,” will take place Tuesday, Jan. 16, at 7 p.m. in the DeVos Center Loosemore Auditorium as part of Grand Valley State University’s annual MLK Commemoration Week. 

Coleman is the former president of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit. She is currently the CEO of the American Civil War Museum in Virginia. 

“History is not a static body of dead facts and people,” said Scott St. Louis, program manager of the Hauenstein Center’s Common Ground Initiative. “It defines how people see the world.” 

St. Louis said Coleman will present on the memory of the Civil War. Coleman will also speak about how public values have shifted over time. St. Louis pointed out that Confederate statues and other Civil War commemorations have held different meanings over time and that individuals need to think critically about historical heritage for future public spaces that are equitable and reflect democratic values communities face in the 21st century.

St. Louis said people need to see the world for how it is through the good, the bad and the ugly. He added that if people don’t learn about history, then they are following the cliché of being doomed to repeat it. But if they do remember the past for how it was, St. Louis continued, then democratic society benefits. 

GVSU’s MLK Commemoration Week will begin Monday, Jan. 15, and go through Saturday, Jan. 20. For Coleman’s presentation, St. Louis expects a full room of about 250 people to be present. 

Kin Ma, GVSU professor and co-chair of the executive planning committee for the MLK festivities, hopes the Commemoration Week will help raise awareness of social injustices. He said, via email, that people can push for societal changes, cultural changes and progress. His committee hopes people learn, get inspired and look at society with new eyes after the Commemoration Week.

“The breaking down of the ‘separate but equal’ myth by the plethora of 1960s civil rights advocates like Dr. King has given African-Americans and other minorities more opportunities,” Ma said. “These opportunities include employment, spatial mobility as well as the use of public spaces and facilities.”

Ma said we need to learn from the lessons of hard-fought struggles and legislative battles, such as the Voting Rights Act, so that these rights and opportunities are preserved for current and future generations. 

“How Shall We Remember” is free and open to the public to attend, but the Hauenstein Center encourages those interested in attending to RSVP. For more information on the event, visit www.hauensteincenter.org/christy-s-coleman-shall-remember/.