Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words were given voice on Wednesday in honor of the 50th anniversary of his death. Projected in Jordan Atrium, these voices were those of Tiffany Burrows, President Kim Phipps and Joseph Huffman.
“I think it’s not only a remembrance but a celebration of history,” Burrows, an admissions counselor and alum, said.
First spoken on December 5, 1955, in Holt Street Baptist Church, Address at the First Montgomery Improvement Association Meeting was recited by Burrows to kick-off this celebration.
This speech by King addressed nonviolent protest and included Rosa Parks and her civil disobedience.
Around noon, Phipps read A Letter from Birmingham Jail. This was written while King was in prison as a response to Alabama clergymen and their critique of his methods. King defended himself and the other nonviolent protesters by saying that sitting by and waiting on the courts would only delay justice.
“King really articulates the importance of Christians standing for what really matters,” Phipps said. “To be able to craft this while sitting in jail literally with just a newspaper to write on and to develop such a cogent argument is quite remarkable.”
Phipps acknowledges that while some work has been done since 1936 when the letter was written, there is still much to do. “It’s a spiritual issue, a personal issue and an intellectual issue and the speech reminds us of what’s best about America and what is so vital about Christian community and he calls us to that ongoing work,” Phipps said.
To close the faculty recitations, Professor of European History Joseph Huffman read King’s 1967 sermon Beyond Vietnam. King urged people to consider nonviolent reconciliation during the Vietnam War.
Although it has been years since King’s message was delivered, Huffman believes it is still as relevant as ever. “I’m not sure that global circumstances are greatly different,” Huffman said. “The temptation of the United States as a powerful nation to follow the path he was criticizing is still very much there. If you take out ‘the Vietnam War’ and put in ‘the war on terror’ it sounds very familiar.”
Huffman also noted that we often forget this was a sermon and not a politically fueled message. “It was in the pulpit of a church; it wasn’t a political speech,” Huffman said. “If you read it this way, he [King] can be challenging well beyond political debates. It’s not about which party’s in power, it’s about changing our hearts.”
To end the day of MLK celebrations, SAB hosted a student-led commemoration in Hostetter Chapel complete with music, speeches and prayer. SAB Cultural Events Coordinator Kate Brock led the service and brought several students to the stage to contribute.
Beginning with civil rights rally songs, Sarah Fe Harris, Isabel Gonzalez, Jamie-Claire Chau and Brock led the audience in harmonious and soulful singing. This was followed by prayer, a speech by student Joshua Scarborough, ‘19, a poem reading and a performance of Precious Lord, Take My Hand by Britney Yauger
An excerpt from King’s final speech I’ve been to the Mountaintop was recited just minutes before a moment of silence was taken at almost the exact time that King was assassinated.
Brock suggested preventing a day of reflection and celebration from being simply one day.
“Read books about his life and history,” Brock said. “Once you are equipped with the knowledge and the research, it’s hard not to do anything about it.”