LAWRENCE – As the 36th annual observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day nears on Jan. 17, two University of Kansas professors are available to comment on its significance – always, but particularly in the wake of challenges to American democracy.
Randal Maurice Jelks is a professor of African & African-American studies and American studies at KU, an author and documentary film producer, as well as a Presbyterian clergyman. He has written three books, and his fourth, “Letters to Martin: Meditations on Democracy in Black America” (Chicago Review Press, 2022), will be published Jan. 11. It’s a heartfelt cry of concern about the state of American democracy, framed as a series of letters to King in an attempt to provide some of his inspiration to today’s younger generations. It was the subject of a KU news release published Jan. 3.
Jelks is also the author of “Benjamin Elijah Mays: Schoolmaster of the Movement” (University of North Carolina Press, 2012), a biography of King’s philosophical mentor at Morehouse College in Atlanta. That book was the subject of a KU news release at the time of its publication.
Then there is filmmaker Kevin Willmott, a professor of film & media studies at KU who won an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay in 2019 for his contributions to “BlacKkKlansman.” Like Jelks, Willmott has thought deeply about the meaning of King’s struggles and the civil rights movement he led.
In 2018, Willmott’s play, “Becoming Martin,” premiered at Kansas City’s Coterie Theatre. It follows young King as he struggles against his prophetic destiny while attending Morehouse. It was the subject of a KU news release at the time of its premiere.
Willmott, who wrote, directed and produced the 2004 mockumentary about the Lost Cause, “C.S.A.: the Confederate States of America,” continues to use the frame of the United States versus the Confederate States of America to describe today’s struggles for democracy.
Jelks and Willmott are currently working together to complete the documentary film “I, Too, Sing America: Langston Hughes Unfurled” about the Kansas native who became one of the 20th century’s leading poets.
To interview Jelks or Willmott, please contact Rick Hellman, KU News Service public affairs officer, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 913-620-8786.
Photos, from left: Randal Maurice Jelks, KU professor of African & African-American studies and American studies, and the cover of his book "Letters to Martin"; and Kevin Willmott, KU professor of film & media studies, and the poster for his play "Becoming Martin."