On my last day in Kampala, I gave a lecture at the Uganda National Theater. Truthfully, I didn’t really expect many people to show up. The lecture, “Owning History: The Legacy of The Legacy of Martin Luther King”, was scheduled smack in the middle of the day. Further, the scheduled time block was two hours long. Me, being American, just couldn’t see folks coming out in the middle of the day for a two hour lecture by someone they never heard of.
Was I ever wrong. The auditorium was packed—even the balcony. This is a testament to the lively intellectual culture of Uganda. My speech was about the way that the legacy of MLK has been altered and stripped of its message of radical social change. I was nervous about the speech. Part of my worry was the matter of my accent. I practiced speaking in such a way that I pronounced all my consonants.
You wouldn’t believe the reaction to the lecture. I spoke for about thirty minutes, but the Q&A went on for about two hours more. Some of the questions were personal observations about the legacy of MLK and others had done extensive research and wanted my opinion about the legacy of other civil rights era leaders. And the name on everyone’s lips was “Obama.”
I don’t think I am doing justice to the experience by calling it a Q&A. This was very different from the tepid exchange you would expect after at lecture at an American university. Some of the questions poses were mini-speeches—more advocacy statements than questions. A few people were downright theatrical. One man gave something realy close to a rousing rendition of the “I Have A Dream” speech itself! I was called on the carpet for the imperialist foreign policy of the US. I was asked if African Americans are resentful of Obama “because his father was not a slave.” (I felt the need to point out that my dad wasn’t a slave either.) At the end, it was just so clear to me how much more informed people in other countries are. I cannot imagine an American audience with such a broad understanding of the history of another country.
Afterwards, I signed autographs, and took photos with hundreds of people. I felt like I was living someone else’s life. Afterwards, I was spirited off. I had a plane to catch.