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News Posted on February 5, 2013

Dr. Clarence B. Jones, Professor Cruz Reynoso Speak at King Hall ‘Remembering Our Roots' Event

Dr. Clarence JonesDr. Clarence B. Jones, who served as counsel and speechwriter for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and helped compose the historic "I Have a Dream" speech, spoke at UC Davis on February 4 as part of a celebration of King's legacy and the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. The event, "Remembering Our Roots: Celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at King Hall," included remarks from Dean Kevin R. Johnson, Professor Cruz Reynoso, and Fabiola Larios '13, the King Hall student who spearheaded the event's planning.

The author of What Would Martin Say? and Behind the Dream: The Making of a Speech that Transformed the Nation, Jones impacted the course of American history through his work with King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) during the civil rights movement. He coordinated the successful legal defense of King and SCLC leaders in libel suits that led to the U.S. Supreme Court case Sullivan v. The New York Times, and drafted the settlement agreement between King and the City of Birmingham that ended demonstrations and desegregated the city's department stores and public accommodations.  He also assisted in drafting the famous "I Have a Dream" speech delivered as part of the March on Washington on August 28, 1963.

Following a brief introduction by Dean Johnson, Jones began his talk by singing lines from "Oh, Freedom" and other songs "that provided the tissue, the sinew, the texture that held the civil rights movement together." He talked about how, during the 1950s, the Supreme Court decisions outlawing segregation in schools and public transportation were met by organized resistance in the southern states, prompting King and other community leaders to organize the boycotts, demonstrations, and acts of nonviolent civil disobedience that defined the civil rights movement.  Jones related the often humorous tale of how King persuaded the initially reluctant young lawyer to join his legal team, and talked about discussions they had about the ethics and legal consequences of civil disobedience. He recalled being present when King delivered the famous "I Have a Dream" and "How Long, Not Long" speeches, and said that honoring King's legacy today requires the courage to confront contemporary social problems such as gun violence. 

"Slain by the rifle bullet of a racist assassin in Memphis, Tennessee, Martin Luther King, Jr. is unequivocally America's apostle of nonviolence," said Jones. "The greatest tribute we today can give in commemoration is to remind our nation that yes, the moral arc of the universe does bend toward justice, but justice in honor of our brother Martin requires that we do whatever it takes to initiate programs to reduce and eradicate the spread of the disease of gun violence in our country." 

Professor Reynoso, an internationally renowned civil rights leader and the first Latino to sit on the California Supreme Court, delivered brief remarks focusing on the need to remember that King fought not only for racial equality, but also against poverty, violence, and the Vietnam War.  "It seems to me that we must remember Martin Luther King as he really was, not as the cuddly teddy bear that some people seem to have made of him.  He was a hardworking person who really believed that everybody in our country ought to have the right to prosper, individually and collectively," Reynoso said. "It seems to me that what Dr. Martin Luther King was saying is that what we need to worry about is justice, day in and day out, for every American."

Larios spoke briefly, calling for increased diversity in legal education and the legal profession, and thanking the Law School and the many students and student organizations who helped to make the event possible.