The Reverend Dr. Bernard LaFayette, Jr. will visit the Gustavus campus Monday, Jan. 17 to deliver a speech in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. LaFayette worked personally with King in the 1960s and has been a monumental civil rights activist and educator since.
LaFayette will give the convocation at Chapel the morning of Jan. 17, beginning at 10:00 a.m. He will also be available for further discussion in the Diversity Center at 2:00 p.m. The day’s events will conclude with a performance by Mixed Blood Theatre, titled “African America.”
LaFayette is a special speaker for Gustavus. He has a history not only with the pivotal King himself, but also a personal connection to Gustavus Adolphus College. In 1974, LaFayette came to Gustavus to create the Peace Studies program and ended up staying for three years.
“Dr. LaFayette was the very first director of the Peace Studies program at Gustavus, which was then called the Peace Education Program,” Professor of Peace Studies Mimi Gerstbauer said. “He was attracted to come here because it was a really unique and visionary Peace Studies Program … to infuse the whole curriculum with Peace Studies.”
During his time as director of the program, Dr. Lafayette focused on making Peace Studies a part of every subject. As a reverend and doctorate, LaFayette also has the skills to speak to the interaction of faith and learning.
“When you talk to people who work in the world of social justice, he is definitely a pioneer on the academic side, as well as the grassroots movement,” Director of the Diversity Center Virgil Jones said.
As a speaker, LaFayette is well suited to address an audience on a college campus such as Gustavus. His work has frequently focused on students, as early as 1960 when he co-founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the 1962 Alabama Voter Registration Project. He has also served as minister of the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Tuskegee, Ala. and as Pastor Emeritus of the Progressive Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn. He is part of a small group of activists who can say they were close to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“I think that these people who were direct associates of King and who have done this work and have been connected like Dr. LaFayette has, these people are getting elderly and we need to hear their voices as long as we can, because they have special insights,” Gerstbauer said.
LaFayette can share his valuable experience in the civil rights movement and relate his work to students at the college level.
“I think Gustavus and its student body are trying to craft a way that is effective to have discourse, and I think that the civil rights movement was a time of huge discourse. We’re beginning to scratch the surface of how to do that effectively on our campus, regardless of the extremes of the opinions, but to do it in a way that is responsible and accountable for the kind of community that we want to be, is really what [Dr. LaFayette] embodies,” Jones said.
“I’m really excited to meet [LaFayette] and just to be with someone who was there, who was really active. I’m really excited to learn more about this portion of history,” Diversity Center Admisitrative Assitant Laura Shilling said.
LaFayette’s visit to campus will include his delivery of the convocation during Chapel at 10:00 a.m., a luncheon with faculty and select students and a coffee reception in the Diversity Center that is open to students. The evening of Jan. 17 will feature Mixed Blood Theatre performing “African America.”