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UF professor discusses life of Martin Luther King, Jr.

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As local residents gear up for service projects, speeches and events about Martin Luther King, Jr., this Monday, University of Florida Director of African-American Studies Sharon Austin shared her insight on the civil rights leader’s life.

“I think that a lot of students don’t really know a whole lot about Dr. King,” she said.

Austin said the knowledge most students have about King is primarily from footage showing the civil rights movement during the 1950s and early 1960s, but they are unaware of “the way his philosophy has changed in the years before his death.”

Austin discussed King’s views against the Vietnam War, his emphasis on Northern discrimination against blacks and his efforts to combat economic discrimination and poverty — all of which, she said, most students may not have heard of.

Throughout his life, Austin said King was faced with criticism from both the black and white communities. Being dubbed an “opportunist,” the blacks who criticized him claimed that he was taking credit away from fellow civil-rights activists.

Austin said society’s perception of King today is more positive, and he is widely considered a martyr.

Austin said that after King’s death, opportunities for blacks opened dramatically including the right to vote and the integration of blacks into the American middle-class.

When asked about how King would feel knowing a holiday was established in his honor, she said he would be flattered but “it would not have been something that he would have asked for.”

“It wasn’t so much about him getting recognized for his service,” she said. “It was more so about just making America a better place.”

Austin said King would be proud of the civil-rights activism taking place in today’s society — most notably during the Trayvon Martin case that took place last year — and encouraged locals to use Monday as a day of service.

“In regards to civil rights, there still are a lot of battles and a lot of challenges,” she said. “But I think we’re headed in a much more positive direction with every decade as a result of the work of Dr. King and people like him.”

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