Jack O’Dell, considered by many as one of the most important figures in the Civil Rights Movement, will speak Thursday evening, Feb. 9 at 7 p.m. at the City Center Marriott in Oakland, as part of the Barbara Lee and Elihu Harris Lecture Series.
O’Dell worked closely with Dr. King in various capacities, including as Director of Voter Education for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Upon the assassination of Dr. King, O’Dell’s colleagues at SCLC selected him Interim Director, recognizing his capacity to keep the organization together through the horrific loss.
As the Director of Voter Education for SCLC, O’Dell organized a cadre of disciplined and courageous individuals who organized thousands of African Americans in the South to register to vote. Voting at that time for African Americans was a difficult and dangerous act requiring not only courage and faith, but training and engagement in nonviolence direct action as well.
For over 50 years Jack O’Dell has served in leadership roles in a number of significant organizations.
O’Dell continues organizing today as a consultant to many community and civil rights organizations, including PUSH/Rainbow where he spent over 20 years as the Director of International Affairs.
O’Dell, raised in the Great Depression in Detroit, and having organized ever since, says: “In this country, when we see a problem we want it fixed right away. Well, this crisis has no quick fix. We can fix it, but it will take time. It will also take a lot of organizing. Our tendency has been to patch up the brokenness, but this crisis reveals that we have to create some alternatives.”
As an educator and organizer O’Dell has fought hard for quality public education for all. “Today, our schools have shifted from being (problem solving) to being part of the problem,” O’Dell said. “We should take seriously the need to transform the school system.”
O’Dell will speak at the event with Dr. Bob Zellner, the son and grandson of Klansmen who went on to become the first white southerner to serve as a field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
The event is free, and donations are accepted. Please RSVP for tickets since space is limited. Call the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center at (510) 434-3988.