Kennesaw State students object to speaker at Martin Luther King Jr. holiday event

First posted March 28, 2020 4:32pm EDT
Last updated June 20, 2020 4:54pm EDT

All Associated Themes:

  • Heckler’s Veto
  • Identity
  • Protest Politics

Members of a Kennesaw State University (KSU) student group denounced the university’s decision to invite an executive of defense contractor Lockheed Martin to be the speaker at its annual luncheon celebrating the life of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in January 2020.    

Key Players

KSU, located north of Atlanta, Georgia, said it invited Roderick McLean to speak because of his achievements as a Black engineer who attended North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, a historically Black college or university (HBCU).

KSUnited is a student group that, according to its Facebook page, is “an inclusive collective of students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members who seek to positively change the university through social justice policy, education, collaboration, and non-violent protest.”

Further Details

After KSU announced its intention to have McLean speak on Martin Luther King (MLK) Jr. Day, KSUnited posted to its Facebook page that the same military equipment manufactured by Lockheed Martin rains “bombs down on helpless people caught in war in their country of birth.” 

The student group further wrote that inviting an executive of a weapons manufacturing company signified KSU’s direct support of war, a contradictory stance to King’s antiwar and nonviolent views. It pointed out that he was an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War and advocated for peace worldwide. 

According to KSUnited, Kennesaw State has for years suppressed social justice work and student groups from marginalized communities on campus. The administration took over the MLK Jr. Day planning activities from the African American Student Alliance, which once had full control of the events. KSUnited claimed the annual celebration was placed under the administration’s control after “conservative backlash,” and it subsequently reduced it from a weekendlong series of events open to the public to a closed luncheon requiring registration and tickets.


KSUnited holds an alternative event honoring MLK Jr.’s legacy of peace

KSUnited, along with Young Democratic Socialists of America at KSU and Students for Justice in Palestine, hosted their own event titled “Honoring MLK’s Legacy of Peace,” on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020, the same day as Kennesaw State’s formal celebration. The groups hosted two speakers to honor King: Ben Williams, president of the Cobb Country branch of Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Councilman khalid, chair of Metro Atlanta Democratic Socialists.