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King Arts Complex presents the history of racial justice in music

On the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr., Ohio State’s College of Social Work is coordinating with the King Arts Complex to host “Music and Racial Justice: From Abolition to Black Lives Matter” Wednesday at King Arts Complex.

The event will examine how music has been used to fight racial injustice and violence against people of color across five decades of American history, with a musical program showcasing 20 songs from past and present movements.

“We looked at music that reflected … that particular era,” said Keith Kilty, professor emeritus in the College of Social Work. “We tried to identify songs that reflected what people were doing [and] how they were trying to express what racial justice meant to them.”

The songs come from five eras — slavery and abolition, the Civil War and reconstruction, Jim Crow segregation, the post-WWII civil rights movement and contemporary racial justice. They recall the historical relevance of the past and how King resonates with the Black Lives Matter movement today.

“What I hope is just for us to take this moment … of a very tragic moment in the history of America — to take that negativity, to take that violence that struck down and took Dr. King from us, the violence that took Emmett Till, the violence that took so many other people throughout American history, to change the narrative — because it’s up to us,” said Jevon Collins, performing arts director for the King Arts Complex.V

Located on the near East Side of Columbus, the King Arts Complex works to engage the community through the arts, as well as cultural and educational programs, to raise awareness on the contributions of African Americans to the culture and history of the United States.

Each moment will showcase three to five songs, performed by Sutton Entertainment Group, that were important to the time period, like “Follow the Drinking Gourd,” as a way to acknowledge the past and move forward with that knowledge.

“These movements go on, and it takes a lot of time and a lot of energy to bring about fundamental rights for people,” Kilty said. “We’re hoping that younger people will see the relevance now of this and look at that history and incorporate that into where they go from here with their own contemporary points of view.”

The night will show how music was a soundtrack for history, uniting people together and opening the conversation for racial equality.

“Life is very fragile. Life is very precious,” Collins said. “Whatever we can do collectively to make a better day for the future of the children is what we need to do, but we just need to keep sight that … the baton is getting passed on, and the struggles may be different, but it’s the same fight.”

The event will take place at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the King Arts Complex, 867 Mount Vernon Avenue. Admission is free. RSVP at www.go.osu.edu/mlk50.

For more information regarding “MLK: 50 Years Later,” a weeklong program by the King Arts Complex: http://kingartscomplex.com/mlk-50-years-later/.

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