Advocate for equality Robert Shetterly gave a lecture regarding important civil rights leaders on Jan. 20. The event, which took place at 7 p.m. in the Emerson Center, was hosted by MSU in honor of Martin Luther King Day.
A distinguished artist, Shetterly is best known for his collection of portraits, “Americans Who Tell The Truth.” The collection includes portraits of important civil rights leaders from history as well as today, and each large piece has a notable quote from the subjects etched into them. Shetterly displayed examples of his pieces during the lecture while providing stories about how he decided to paint them. Twelve of the portraits were in the lobby of the Emerson Center for viewing and had been on display at Wild Joe’s Coffee Spot since the beginning of January.
One of the portraits Shetterly focused in his lecture is of Oren Lyons, a Native-American Faithkeeper, human rights advocate and environmental advocate. Lyons told Shetterly about the “doctrine of Christian discovery,” which was one focus of the lecture. The doctrine gave Christian explorers the right to take items of value from native people, take slaves and commit other injustices. “An idea like that, that is so important to the way history has gone, and the way we have justified the things we have done in the world,” he said. Shetterly attributed much of the behavior that has facilitated racism and other human rights issues in history to ideas such as the “doctrine of Christian discovery.”
Shetterly discussed other portraits he has painted, emphasized the stories he has learned through his work and their connections to history and issues today. The lecture began with excerpts from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech, and Shetterly returned to his research on King later in the lecture. He considered how King would see today’s issues and said he believes that issues of the environment would be on his mind. Reading several of King’s quotes, Shetterly also discussed elements of King’s life and the sacrifices he knowingly made to create social change for the better.
Along with information on King, Shetterly shared the story behind finding equality in education. He ended the lecture by reading two quotes he selected from King and shared some of the inspiration he has gained from him. “The issues may be slightly different today, but certainly the challenge is the same,” Shetterly said.
Prior to delivering his lecture Tuesday evening, Shetterly visited students at MSU, Bozeman High School, Sacajawea Middle School, Chief Joseph Middle School, Headwaters Academy and Anderson School to discuss important civil rights leaders. Shetterly also delivered a lecture at the Procrastinator Theater hosted by MSU’s Honors College in the afternoon on Jan. 20, prior to the lecture at the Emerson Center.
Shetterly advocated for every citizen’s involvement in important issues of justice, social awareness and equality. He also focused on every citizen’s relationship to the future: “I think the charge to all of us is to be as certainly awake not only to ourselves, but to our children and our children’s children,” he said.