UT Austin — MLK Statue Site
Monday, January 20, 8:30 a.m.
This is the speech President Fenves gave during the program for the 2020 Martin Luther King Jr. Day Community March and Rally after being introduced by Cherise Smith, Chair of UT’s African & African Diaspora Studies Department and Executive Director of the Galleries at Black Studies.
Thank you, Dr. Smith, for that kind introduction and for your outstanding leadership as chair of UT’s African and African Diaspora Studies Department and executive director of the Galleries at Black Studies.
I’d also like to thank UT leaders Leonard Moore, Soncia Reagins-Lilly, Ted Gordon — whom you will hear from later — and Brenda Burt. I know there are many elected officials here; thank you for being with us this morning and thank you for your service. And I do want to recognize our state senator, Kirk Watson …
Finally, welcome to my good friend and fellow president, Colette Pierce Burnette of Huston-Tillotson University.
And thank you all for gathering with us here at The University of Texas … to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
When we look back on the Civil Rights Movement and the decades that Dr. King spent passionately spreading his message of equality and justice … we find so many stories of sacrifice, dedication and courage. From American heroes like Rosa Parks and Medgar Evers to Congressman John Lewis … who is in our thoughts now but was only 23 years old at the time of the March on Washington.
I mention these names — Parks, Evers and Lewis — because they, too … along with thousands of others … are part of this annual celebration. MLK Day is a recognition of the shared struggle for equality … and the many people who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of justice … often at great personal sacrifice.
And here in Austin and at our university, there are legendary individuals who represent our history and embody the legacy of Dr. King. And today I want to focus on one of them … Warfield … John L. Warfield. Or … Doc … which is what nearly everyone on campus and throughout the community called him.
This year, we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the John L. Warfield Center … which is now the hub of Black Studies at UT and recognized as one of the finest centers of its kind nationally. Yet when Doc arrived in Austin in 1973 as a new professor and director of UT Afro-American Studies and the African and Afro-American Research Center … this center was still in its infancy … and in need of a leader with vision, courage and the ability to speak the truth. Doc was the perfect person for the job.
In over a decade as director … Doc would help lay the groundwork for a transformation of the university — where racist and discriminatory practices would be challenged and changed … and diversity, inclusion and equality rose to become part of the moral foundation of UT.
Doc did this through education — by teaching a broad range of classes that challenged and inspired his students to think … and approach issues with passion and a sense of empowerment and responsibility.
He did this by challenging the UT administration and telling leaders where the university was falling short … and how it could improve and provide an educational environment that enriches individuals of all backgrounds.
He did this by becoming a pillar of Austin’s black community … by founding a radio station that focused on African American issues, establishing the Black Citizens Task Force to advocate for better public policy and by forging bonds with residents in East Austin … making sure that the university valued their voices and heard their concerns.
By doing all of these things, Doc helped usher in a new era at The University of Texas — where our constitutional charge to serve as “a university of the first class” could finally begin to apply to all students and members of our community ... not just a select few.
Doc once said, “I thrive on the need for social change. I consider myself a scholar activist." And … I feel those same words could be used to describe another “Doc” … Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. … and his enlightened activism and moral leadership.
This holiday … which is named for Dr. King … gives us a chance to reflect upon and celebrate … all of the individual stories of people who followed in Dr. King’s footsteps and helped improve life for so many across the nation and lead us to a better future.
For Austin and for UT … John L. Warfield was one of those people … and I’m very proud that I could recognize him on this special day and that our university can celebrate 50 years of Black Studies in this new year … 50 years of the John L. Warfield Center.
Thank you all.