Congressman Paul Tonko visits campus civil rights display

Tyler McNeil

Managing Editor

Congressman Paul Tonko (D-20) stopped by the Marvin Library last week to take a walk through civil rights history.

“When we see this [exhibit], it’s a walk down the path of history, and our history informs us, challenges us and inspires us if we allow it to reach us,” said Tonko, who represents Hudson Valley’s congressional district, including TEC-SMART.

Marvin is one of 50 libraries in the nation to display the National Endowment of Humanities (NEH)-funded “Changing America: The Emancipation Proclamation, 1863 and the March on Washington, 1963” exhibit.

The congressman’s trip to the library exhibit is one of many visits Tonko has made to the college recently, mostly to the TEC-SMART campus in Malta. “Paul Tonko is everywhere in this district supporting all of the efforts that we have going on [at Hudson Valley],” said President Drew Matonak.

According to Matonak, prior to the event, originally scheduled for 2:30 p.m. but delayed 30 minutes, Tonko told him, “This is great, because it provides us with an opportunity for all of our students who haven’t experienced any of this to really get a sense for what our history was and how important it was.”

“We know about the loss of lives that people witnessed for this cause. We know about the struggle and the hardship that these men and women faced,” said Tonko.

This isn’t the first time Tonko’s connections to the Civil Rights movement and to Hudson Valley have overlapped. In February, the congressman attended the Selma 50th anniversary celebration at Empire State Plaza, where college alumna Nell Stokes-Holmes received a congressional medal for protecting civil rights.

This year, the congressman walked down the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma for the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery March. “Too much effort went into this to allow for slippage,” said Tonko about preserving the legacy of the Civil Rights movement.

Tonko also touched on the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision declaring Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional, meaning that states could now change their voting laws without procedural protections in place. “Today, I get worried that at times, we’re disenfranchising voters, disempowering [voters] and not providing equal opportunity for people,” said Tonko.

Library director Brenda Hazard said that Hudson Valley applied to host the “Changing America” exhibit over a year ago. “It’s an opportunity to see how individuals can change an entire society,” she said.

A series of “Created Equal: America’s Civil Rights Struggle” film screenings and presentations themed around the exhibit will begin next Tuesday, Sept. 15, with the presentation “The Four Horsemen of Structural Racism” at 1 p.m. in the BTC Auditorium. SUNY Buffalo professor Henry Louis Taylor Jr. will present modern cases of racial injustice, highlighting the nation’s most recent debacles in powder kegs of racial unrest such as Ferguson and Baltimore. Taylor will analyze these events through what he terms “the four horsemen” of structural racism: “unequal distribution of wealth, metropolitan city building, the neoliberal housing market and individual white racism.”

“There’s two sides to every problem. Either you’re going to separate yourself from it or you’re going to entertain it,” said Nasir Cissie, accounting student, about racial tensions in the nation’s history.

The next library exhibit, “Pride of Our Nation,” which will honor veterans, is expected to open in November, nearly a month after the “Changing America” exhibit closes on Oct. 2.


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