April 13, 2024

You cannot love Dr. King and hate anybody, according to Dorothy Tillman, Civil Rights Activist and former member of Martin Luther King Jr.’s staff, who addressed Wittenberg students in a Martin Luther King Jr. convocation in Weaver Chapel on Jan. 16.
Tillman served as a Chicago alderman, representing the city’s south side and focusing on educational issues as well as the repercussions of slavery. Before beginning her political career in Chicago, she was a member of Martin Luther King Jr.’s field staff, serving as an activist for civil rights. Tillman participated in the historical march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965.
Tillman’s address, “The Power of Nonviolence,” focused on the importance of nonviolence in standing up against injustice, citing King’s six steps to nonviolent social change. While King’s philosophy outlines six steps of nonviolence: information gathering, education, personal commitment, discussion and negotiation, direct action and reconciliation, Tillman focused the majority of her speech on reconciliation, and its importance.
“Reconciliation depends on your resolve,” Tillman said. “You resolve the issue. We have agreed. You move on from it.”
Tillman stated that, in order to reach reconciliation, one must not be clouded by hate and anger, but must be committed to fighting injustice rather than a person or group.
Tillman was attracted to King’s activism as a teen because he was the only one answering questions that she deemed to be unanswerable at the time, and he was answering these questions without hate. King answered questions about why Tillman was treated differently because of the color of her skin. For her, one of these major questions was why she could not sit on the front of the bus like other girls her age who were white.
“There was something magical about that front seat,” Tillman said.
Many of the same questions regarding inequality are still being asked in America today, according to Tillman. Senior Courtney Huck agreed.
“I think that we constantly have new unanswerable questions popping up,” Huck said. “There are so many broad questions where a direct answer for what’s the best route isn’t clear. I think some of our unanswerable questions today deal with the environment, race and socioeconomic inequalities.”
Tillman believes that these questions can be answered if activists return to King’s model of nonviolent activism, and find organizations with a clear mission to join.
“I’m challenging the young people that we have a bigger problem,” Tillman said.
The problem, she said, is misguided social movements, who are encouraging activists to fight just for the sake of fighting.
“If you are out there fighting and screaming, you need to have a clear direction for what’s going to happen when you are done screaming,” Tillman said. “What’s going to make you a better person?”
Junior Carly Bockhold said that Tillman’s outlook on fighting injustice rather than a person was an important outlook that our country has missed.
“We are so into fighting the person, but the reason our country is failing is not just because of the mistakes of one single person, but a collective group of people,” Bockhold said. “To fight it, we cannot scream and attack, but fight the injustice in a bright and powerful way just like Miss Tillman and M.L.K. did in the Civil Rights Movement.”
Tillman closed her speech by encouraging young activists to find their mission, and to evaluate the ways they were making a difference. Tillman pulled on her personal experience of activism, stating that she knows nonviolence is successful not because someone told her it works, but because she has seen it work.
“Do the right thing for the right reason,” Tillman said. “If there is something wrong, decide you want to make it right.”

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