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Queens College recalls own history in civil rights battle

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"This college has a legacy going back to the civil rights era," Muyskens said. He noted that Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had spoken at the school in 1965, a speech that the school recently discovered was captured on tape and plans to broadcast throughout the month. And as a reminder of the Civil Rights movement's often violent toll, the school's Chaney-Goodman-Schwerner Clock Tower was dedicated to three civil rights workers killed during a 1964 voter registration drive in Mississippi, including Queens College student Andrew Goodman. With the recent news that a former Ku Klux Klansman had been arrested and charged with the murders, Muyskens said, "We've come full circle."As the school kicks off its first official Black History Month tribute, Muyskens said he wanted to provoke reflection and comparison through the planned lectures, roundtables and exhibits."What we wanted to ask is what were civil rights 40 years ago, and where are they today?" he said. "We're examining the most complex issues of the day, and trying to make sure students today have the same commitment to social justice as they did 40 years ago."Planning for this year's events, which is capped off with a town hall meeting Feb. 28 focusing on the impact of educational desegregation on Queens, started in 2004 with the formation of a student, staff and faculty committee."We have planned the events to take a clear-eyed view of the past, with the goal of building bridges among people today," said Queens College professor Premilla Nadasen, committee co-chair, on the school's website. And though Queens College had not formally organized large-scale Black History Month celebrations in the past, Muyskens said this year's timing was particularly important in terms of recognizing the past."We've been doing things over the years, but it just seemed to me especially given this finding of the Martin Luther King tape and the 40th anniversary of the murder of our graduate last year, that we really needed to put a special effort into this," he said.The focus on the past also has implications for the future of the school, Muyskens said. "We're looking right now very carefully at our general education curriculum, what are the things we need to make sure the students come away with," he said. "We want to focus on values and interpersonal relations."The timing is ideal and it's really our core business," he added.Reach reporter Sophia Chang by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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