US Ambassador delivers lecture at UniSey on civil rights movement


Ambassador Villarosa giving her lecture

The students from departments of education, humanities and law, Mont Buxton’s Member of the National Assembly Sheryl Vengadasamy, were joined by UniSey’s pro-vice-chancellor Lucy Athanasius.

Ambassador Villarosa emphasised that such leaders as Martin Luther King achieved in getting many basic rights enshrined in the US constitution, by preaching peace, not violence.

In so doing, Dr King ran into opposition from radicals, such as Malcolm X and Stokely Carmicheal and was assassinated in Memphis on April 4, 1968 at the age of 39.

Ironically, there was a violent reaction to Dr King’s assassination with blood spilt, fires raging and other despicable acts of violence which the civil rights campaigner abhorred.

Ambassador Villarosa lived through those times. In her teenage years, she saw some racial murders and houses burning.

The students watched a video film called ‘Great hearts of courage’ focusing on the struggle of civil rights advocates like Dr Luther King. His famous speech “I have a dream” was to become reality some years after he died.

It noted that the US civil war opposing the north to the south, ended slavery, without ending racism.

One of the first successful challenges came in Montgomery, Alabama in March 1955, when a high school junior called Claudette Colvin refused to surrender her seat on a bus to a white passenger for the first time in the city’s history.

Although black leaders did not elect Claudette as their “poster child” – the Colvin case provided tactical and political information that was later useful to civil rights leaders, including Dr Luther King.

The video ended with former secretary of state Colin Powell, himself a black American, saying that tremendous progress has been achieved over the years, though everything is still far from perfect.

After Dr King’s death, President Lyndon Johnson, who comes from the southern States where racism was strong and succeeded John Fitzgerald Kennedy upon his assassination in 1963, passed through legislation to correct injustices which had persisted to allow Afro-Americans to become franchised.

The set of complex legislation sought to protect all Americans from discrimination on grounds of race, colour, ethnicity, creed etc. It also sought to protect everyone from poverty, hunger and disease.

Civil rights pushed through by President Johnson sought to have federal laws supersede state legislation.

However, as Ambassador Villarosa noted, societal discrimination still exists in the American society “even after some people had put their lives on the line” as it does elsewhere in the world.

Responding to a question, she said that Indian-Americans (otherwise known as Red Indians) continue living in reserves in New Mexico, Arizona and a few other states largely ignored.

She also noted that President Barack Obama is called an African American, though he is of mixed race, because the term “coloured” is a “racial slur” in the US.

Ambassador Villarosa, who is based in Mauritius, also presented Ms Athanasius with a donation of several books for the UniSey library. These include copies of the Encyclopedia of American studies.

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