C.S. Lewis Lecture Commences Black History Month

Rev. Marvin A. McMickle’s lecture, “To Serve This Present Age: Addressing Racism, Poverty, and Militarism Fifty Years after the Death of Martin Luther King Jr.” was the Sixth Annual C.S. Lewis Legacy Lecture. PHOTO BY THERASIA BRAUTIGAM.


The Sixth Annual C.S. Lewis Legacy Lecture was held on Thursday, Feb. 1, commencing Black History Month. This year’s lecture focused on the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death and was delivered by Rev. Marvin A. McMickle, President of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School and member of the Martin Luther King, Jr., International Board of Preachers at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia.

In his speech, entitled “To Serve This Present Age: Addressing Racism, Poverty, and Militarism Fifty Years after the Death of Martin Luther King Jr.,” McMickle incorporated King’s ideas to discuss past and present issues in America. This included what he called the tripartite system of oppression, military spending, and the wealth gap.

“Keep them as politically powerless as possible so they cannot escape the poverty. Keep them poor, keep them powerless, keep them terrorized,” McMickle said.

McMickle started his lecture by focusing on King’s “Letter from Birmingham,” a letter King wrote in 1963 while he was in jail in Birmingham AL. In response to the letters Alabama clergymen wrote him about how violence and racism always exist, Dr. King posed an important question: “Who are these people and who is their god?” McMickle continuously used this phrase to justify many of his ideas throughout the lecture.

Doneghy “didn’t have a gun,” McMickle said. “He had a dream.”

The tripartite system of oppression, as McMickle stated, includes three parts: poverty, political powerlessness, and terror. This system, he said, created the oppression that his great-great uncle, Edward Doneghy, experienced when attempting to register to vote in Kentucky in 1930. Doneghy was shot dead by the registrar, who told him, “Do not vote in Kentucky,” and who later pled self-defense.

Doneghy “didn’t have a gun,” McMickle said. “He had a dream.”

Throughout his lecture, McMickle repeatedly used the word “parrhesia,” a term that Socrates, a Greek philosopher, used to define bold speech. Socrates claimed that men condemning him to death were “offended by my parrhesia,” as McMickle explains. He referenced the word when describing how President Trump confronted the white supremacy march that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.  “Parrhesia would have been helpful from the President. Bold speech would have given the nation a sense of direction in the face of that intolerable event.” Instead, McMickle noted, President Trump stated, “there were very fine people on both sides.”

“The same Nazis that bombed this church,” said McMickle, referring to St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury, to conduct a “reclaiming of the land they thought was theirs.”

CS Lewis Lecture 3
Sydney Franklin, ’18, addresses McMickle during the question and answer period.

McMickle ended his lecture by defining the characteristics of a witness: “To be a witness you must see something, say something truthful about what you have seen, and be prepared to suffer from what you have said.”

He used the biblical story of Lazarus, a poor beggar who “would have eaten the crumbs” left by a rich man that passed him every day, “except the rich man didn’t even offer them.” The rich man was “eating selfishly every day” and eventually “wakes up in hell,” according to McMickle. The rich man “wasn’t a good witness,” McMickle said, because he ignored Lazarus.

McMickle took questions from the audience. Hannah Macon, ’19, asked about what influences he had during his life that allowed him to be confident and bold enough to speak about what others wouldn’t.  McMickle explained that when he was younger he attended a Martin Luther King, Jr. rally and “saw an image of what life could be like.” He then posed a question to the audience, “How much unpopularity and how much discomfort are you prepared to endure?”

Sydney Franklin, ’18, asked McMickle how people can still be witnesses after continually being met with silence, and sometimes backlash. McMickle replied with a quote from Frederick Douglass, “‘Agitate! Agitate! Agitate!”

The next C.S. Lewis Legacy Lecture will feature Philip A. Cunningham, the professor of Theology and director of the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations of Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It will be held Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019, in the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury.


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