Dr. Theodore Walker Jr. spoke about Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s rejection of the ‘civil rights leader’ title in his lecture, “Don’t Call King a ‘Civil Rights’ Leader,” at the 2018 Maguire Public Scholar Lecture Feb. 7 in Meadows Museum Great Hall.
Dr. Walker, Associate Professor of Ethics and Society at SMU, specializes in Christian ethics, moral theory, and neoclassical cosmology.
Walker focused on the overlooked accomplishments of King, such as his advancements in optimistic realism. Besides crusading for civil rights, King petitioned for the addition of an economic bill of rights to the US Constitution, separate from the pre-existing Bill of Rights, and for full employment supplemented by a guaranteed income. Walker said it’s important to understand that ideologies of Martin Luther King Jr. encompassed far more than simply civil rights.
“Remembering King primarily as a domestic civil rights leader is inadequate and sometimes harmful,” Walker said. “The term ‘civil rights’ fails to embrace King’s abolitionist movements toward global abolition of poverty and the global abolition of war.”
Approximately 60 people, consisting of past and current students of Dr. Walker, SMU faculty, and members of the Maguire Center for Ethics, gathered to hear Walker speak. In her introduction, Rita Kirk, the William F. May Endowed Director of the Maguire Center of Ethics and Public Responsibility, spoke of the importance of refreshing the public’s memory of King’s work and his radical ideas as a reminder that the struggle for justice and equality is not over.
“Dr. Theo Walker is certainly an institution at SMU,” Kirk said. “One of the things that you always know when you get a chance to talk to Theo is that you’re going to hear it straight from the heart. He never pulls a punch.”
Each year, the Maguire Public Scholar Lecture is hosted in order to support SMU faculty and to contribute to its robust campus culture. In previous years, the lecture series has welcomed scholars such as Maguire Professor of Ethics Stephen Long and Professor of Law and Medical Ethicist Tom Mayo. Lectures like these serve as a continuation of SMU’s efforts to create ethical practices and dialogue on campus.
Alex Davis, a communications major at SMU, said the talk gave her a new understanding of King’s legacy.
“I heard about MLK while growing up, but I never realized that we don’t talk about half the stuff he did,” Davis said. “I’m really happy I went to this lecture because it really expanded my mindset.”