On Tuesday evening in the Union Ballroom, civil rights activist Charles Cobb, Jr. delivered the annual keynote lecture for Geneseo's Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration.
Cobb was a field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a key organization of young activists during the civil rights movement. SNCC was involved in creating the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, a delegation that challenged parties' rules, which at the time disenfranchised black voters in Mississippi and throughout most of the south.
Since then, he has worked extensively as a foreign affairs reporter and is currently the senior analyst for allAfrica.com.
In his lecture, Cobb discussed the Obama presidency, the grassroots movement that made the civil rights reforms possible and how the two interlink. "What connects Obama to that story is community organizing," said Cobb.
The achievements of these movements paved the way for candidates like Obama and Hillary Clinton to run successfully. "The job [SNCC] did resulted in changing forever the rules of the Democratic Party," Cobb said. He recollected spending time with civil rights leader Amzie Moore and working in Mississippi, which he said was the "most dangerous place on earth for a black person" during the '50s and '60s.
Cobb concluded by talking about "civil rights and civil liberties under assault in the name of national security." He said that in reporting on foreign affairs, he has seen liberties and freedoms in many countries disappear and warned about consequences of legislation like the Patriot Act.
Following his lecture, Cobb answered questions from the audience. In response to an inquiry about the inadequacy of civil rights coverage in secondary education, he said that public school reform is "the one issue the civil rights movement failed to tackle" and said it was an issue for the present generation to work on.
He also talked about Obama's decision to downplay race during the primary and presidential campaigns, noting that people should not expect Obama to be an activist in the footsteps of King, but rather should look outside of government.
"[Cobb] represents an untold story from the civil rights movement," said junior Brian Hartle. He said he is impressed by the sacrifice made by those who had dedicated prime years of their life to the movement.
Many students said they admired Cobb's thoughts and activism. "I thought he was wonderful," said freshman Anders Korn.
"I just wanted to pick his brain," said junior Chris Owen, who attended an informal discussion group with Cobb earlier in the day. "You could have a discussion with him for hours and hours."
The Office of the Provost sponsored the program along with the Xerox Center for Multicultural Teacher Education, the Africana/Black Studies program and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration Committee.