Hartford Public Library to Hold Forum that Explores Past and Present Civil Rights Movements

Updated Dec. 2, 2012, 6:32 a.m.

By Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — The Hartford Public Library’s annual literary feast, One Book, One Hartford, will culminate with what’s anticipated to be an electrifying forum about the murder of Emmett Till, which helped spark the 20th-century Civil Rights Movement in the American South.

Organizers say the discussion will explore the past and present civil rights movements, more specifically how much progress America has made since the terrible tragedy occurred in 1955.

Entitled “Where Are We Now?: The Past and Present of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement,” the two-hour discussion will be on Monday, Dec. 3. with an hour of questions and answers. It will be held in the Center for Contemporary Culture auditorium on the first floor of the Downtown Hartford Public Library at 500 Main St. Light refreshments will be served from 5:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. The discussion will begin at 6 p.m.

The event is free and open to the public.

Confirmed panelists represents a cross section of the Greater Hartford community: Hartford NAACP Executive Director Mohammed Ansari; Senior Pastor of Faith Congregational Church, Rev. Stephen W. Camp, University of Connecticut Professor Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar; Hartford Youth Activist Yusef Kardulis; American Civil Liberties Union, Hartford Chapter Executive Director Sandra Staub. See flyer here.

The five-member panelists will be moderated by The Hartford Guardian Founder, Ann-Marie Adams.

The discussion will center on this year’s book, A Wreath for Emmett Till, written by University of Connecticut Professor, award-winning Poet Laureate Marilyn Nelson.

The book, which garnered a Robert Frost Award, is actually comprised of interlinked sonnets.  A sonnet is a fourteen-line rhyming poem in iambic pentameter ( meaning it’s sing songy). Critics said A Wreath for Emmett Till gives us this martyr’s wreath, woven from a little known but sophisticated form of poetry, and challenges us to speak out against modern-day injustices, to “speak what we see.”

This book is also intricately laced with lines that lingers in one’s memory, such as:

Trillium, apple blossoms, Queen Anne’s lace,

Indian pipe, bloodroot, white as moonbeams,

Like the full moon, which smiled calmly on his death,

Like his gouged eye, which watched boots kick his face.

Organizers said they selected Nelson’s book not just because of its literary merit or because it’s accessible to young readers, but because of its social relevance today in light of the Trayvon Martin case, in which a 17-year old boy was shot and killed in February as he made his way home with iced-tea and skittles. Since the Martin case earlier this year, other cases have emerged.

According to a recent Washington-ABC poll, there’s a stark racial divide on the Trayvon Martin case, which riveted the nation. People across America, including Hartford, protested, marched and discussed the delayed justice for Martin.

This year’s book speaks to that theme of the long walk to justice in the black community, organizers said.

” We are doing this program because it’s been 57 years since the tragedy [of Emmett Till], and we want to explore how things have changed or have not changed,” said Hartford Public Librarian Julie Carroll. “On one hand, there is the terrible Trayvon Martin case. On the other hand there is the re-election of Barack Obama. So where are we now in terms of human rights? That’s our question.”

Adams, a recent Frank C. Munson Institute Paul Cuffe Fellow, said she is excited about that the Library chose Nelson’s award-winning book and was having this difficult but necessary discussion about race in America.

“Race is always on the table in our daily lives in New England and across the nation,” Adams said. “But many Americans tend to silence or sanction those who speak out about it, hence the fear that has paralyzed leaders in our community. Frankly, I was a bit surprised when I learned about this forum. Nevertheless,  I’m so looking forward to what seems like an intellectually robust and satiating discussion.”

The anticipated discussion, originally scheduled for Nov. 30, was rescheduled for Dec. 3 because of Tropical Storm Sandy.

A discussion guide for this year’s One Book One Hartford theme is at http://onebookonehartford.org/Discussion_Guides.shtml. Or click here.

For more information, call Julie Carroll at 860-695-6300.

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