George Edwards came to New Haven in 1964, but the former member of the New Haven Black Panther Party spoke at Yale for the first time on Monday afternoon. Clad in black from head to foot and wearing dark-tinted glasses, Edwards talked about his life as an activist and the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.
About 50 students and local residents came to hear Edwards speak at the Afro-American Cultural Center. The grass-roots activist shared his personal history and beliefs in an event organized by Ezra Stiles College, the Anti-Racism Group, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Coordinating Council.
Edwards, 65, walked his audience through the decades of his life as an activist, integrating personal stories with the larger historical context of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War. He sat with William F. Pepper’s book, “Orders to Kill: the Truth Behind the Murder of Martin Luther King Jr.,” propped on the table in front of him, and an anti-war sign taped to the wall behind him.
One theme of Edwards’ talk was his controversial belief in a conspiracy behind King’s death, as speculated in Pepper’s book. Edwards said King was a “victim of organized crime of the highest levels” and pointed to the U.S. government, military and powerful corporations as being among the organizers.
Another theme of Edwards’ talk was his ardent anti-war stance. In the middle of his speech, he stood up and tapped the sign on the wall, which he said he had made in 1991. At the top of the poster, he had written the words, “U.S. Troops out of the Middle East!” Edwards worked for the U.S. military as a young man and later decided to quit. After he was discharged, he became heavily involved in activism and subsequently joined the New Haven Black Panther Party.
Edwards tied his remarks to King, saying that people today should continue the civil rights leader’s anti-war, anti-violence platform.
“I’m still focused on Dr. King in my beliefs and practices,” Edwards said.
He emphasized that King does not represent an isolated period in history but is a figure whose message still rings true.
After his presentation, one audience member asked Edwards about his opinion of today’s young people and their struggle for equality.
“It’s not the students’ fault that they’re not involved,” Edwards said. He redirected the burden to older generations, saying they must share their experiences and set an example for the youth to follow.
“For those of you who say this is a lost generation, well then why aren’t you going out to find them?” Edwards said.
Carol Shorey, a New Haven resident, said she came to hear Edwards speak because she was interested in his “take” on King and the historical context of his death. Shorey said Edwards is her mentor and that she has known him for about 10 years.
David Myles MED ’09 said everything came together for him at the end of the talk, when Edwards advocated intergenerational partnership.
“The part that most affected me was how to motivate our generation to make a change,” Myles said.