Acclaimed Filmmaker Honors Dr. KingJanuary 20, 2009
Documentarian David A. Wilson recalled the life and legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Jan. 19 during Rowan University's 23rd annual scholarship breakfast held in the civil rights leader's memory.
Wilson's 2008 film, Meeting David Wilson, traced the Rowan graduate's family history from the tough streets of Newark, N.J. to the bondage of a North Carolina tobacco plantation. Most shocking of all, his research led him to meet another David Wilson - a middle-aged white man, whose ancestors enslaved those of the filmmaker - and the two developed a friendship borne of the unlikeliest roots.
Meeting David Wilson aired on MSNBC in April, one week past the 40th anniversary of Dr. King's slaying in Memphis, Tenn., and prompted an on-air discussion about race relations in America.
On the morning before Barack Obama, America's first African American President, was sworn into office, Wilson said it was a moment in time King himself might never have imagined.
"I can see Dr. King smiling proudly on Nov. 4, 2008 when millions of white Americans went to the polls and voted for a black man to lead the nation," Wilson said.
Wilson (Radio/Television/Film, '99) said his documentary sought to explore not only his family's history but a question he'd pondered for years: "What is wrong with black people?"
The answer, he found, is nothing. Despite the institution of slavery, the bigoted Jim Crow laws that followed, and a level of intolerance that exists even today, the vast majority of African Americans persevered for a better life.
"In the fight against slavery, we won. In the fight against Jim Crow, we won. I wanted to show young black America that we are a people born of victors, not victims," he said.
Wilson said he continues to speak with his namesake, a seemingly good-natured man whose family runs a popular Caswell County, N.C. barbeque restaurant. During the film he queried the other Wilson about the plantation where he now lives - it once produced tobacco and had 30-40 slaves - as well as about his thoughts on slavery and reparation. The elder Wilson's answers: slavery was a norm at the time (but that doesn't excuse it) and the mechanics of reparation (who should pay it, who should get it, etc.) are unclear.
"We've become very good friends," the filmmaker continued. "I'm not sure if I convinced him to vote for Barack Obama but he's very proud of the results of the election."
Speaking before Wilson's keynote address, Rowan University President Donald J. Farish said he came to America from Canada as a college student in the late 1960s, aware of the racial strife in the U.S. but wholly unprepared for it.
Attending graduate school at North Carolina State University, Farish recalled the abject poverty of black neighborhoods and laws barring blacks from eating in whites-only restaurants.
"I had seen bigotry before in Canada but had never encountered the institutionalized racism that existed in this country," he said.
Farish said that experience prompted him to join the Congress for Racial Equality, a pivotal civil rights organization.
"For me, and I know for many of you, the fight Dr. King led is a personal memory," he said.
He noted that had King not been assassinated April 4, 1968, he might be alive to witness Obama's historic inauguration.
"Dr. King's dream is coming true," he said.
The traditional breakfast, held on King's birthday and ushering in a month of activities at Rowan to commemorate Black History Month in February, drew several hundred attendees to the Eynon Ballroom of the Chamberlain Student Center. Proceeds from the breakfast help support scholarships through the William H. Myers Scholarship Program.
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The documentary film "Meeting David Wilson" will re-air on MSNBC Sunday, February 8th at 6:30PM EDT. If you haven't seen it already, this is an opportunity for you to catch it. For those of you who have watched it already, it's a chance to view it again and inform friends, family, co-workers and classmates about the film.