The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration began with the audience standing and singing in unison.
“Let us march on until victory is won,” the audience sung as the lyrics to “Lift Every Voice and Sing” were displayed on a screen at the beginning of the event.
The celebration honored Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy through speeches and music Monday at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater. The program featured keynote speaker Rev. Harold Middlebrook, a leader in the civil rights movement who worked with King.
Middlebrook became involved with the civil rights movement and met King when he was a student at Morehouse College in the 1960s.
Middlebrook also became the youth minister at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, where both King and his father served as pastors. He directed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s field office in Selma, Alabama, in 1965, and he later organized a voter registration campaign after the Voting Rights Act was passed.
In 1968, Middlebrook saw King’s assassination from the parking lot of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.
The program also included speeches from Mayor John Hamilton, IU Provost Lauren Robel, Rev. Mary Ann Macklin from Unitarian Universalist Church and Amanda Barge from the Monroe County Board of Commissioners.
Hamilton presented the 2018 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Award to IU Visitor Center director Nicole Griffin. She was recognized for her work teaching minority students about their heritage and advocating for more minority representation at the IU Eskenazi Museum of Art.
In his speech, Hamilton discussed the importance of honoring King’s legacy by speaking up on issues such as racial bias and discrimination.
He also addressed President Trump’s recent “shithole” comment, which Hamilton called un-American and reprehensible.
“72 hours ago, the president of the United States used words that I will not repeat here, not only because they are profane, but because they are inhumane," Hamilton said. “We have to stand up and tell the world this is not who we are.”
The program also featured performances from the African American Choral Ensemble and the Fairview Elementary School Choir.
Raymond Wise, the director of the IU African American Choral Ensemble, said the songs were chosen because they fit King’s message of determination.
The program featured the song, “When Will They Learn to Love One Another,” which Wise wrote when he was 17. The song is about helping and loving each other on the way to making the world a better place, Wise said.
“It’s the idea that until we start helping one another along the way, get along and love we can’t really make the world better,” he said.
The African American Choral Ensemble performs music in the tradition of the civil rights movement, including gospel and spiritual music, Wise said.
The music at the event expresses the need to keep fighting for a better world, he said.
"We have come a long way, but we are not quite there when we still look around in our world and we still see that so many people are still oppressed and pushed down and marginalized and not fully treated equally or fairly," Wise said. "We still have marching to do."
In the program, Middlebrook talked about how he and King were arrested together at sit-in at a department store in Atlanta.
As he was growing up, Middlebrook was taught to avoid having a police record. But he learned a different lesson when he was arrested with King.
“Yet as we sat in that jail, Martin came and taught us that it is an honor if you stand and fight for a just cause,” he said in his speech. “If there is an unjust law, you have a moral obligation even if it means that you have to suffer.”
For Middlebrook, his friendship and work with King was life-changing.
“I think I had my calling early, but I think that involvement with Dr. King really changed my whole perspective on what life is really all about,” Middlebrook said. “It’s not so important to become an attorney and make money, but what do you give back to the dream? How do you help people?”
Middlebrook said that while he wants people to honor King, he does not want him to be sanitized or worshiped. He wants people to understand that he was a man, not a saint.
“I’m convinced that Martin Luther King was a man for our time, but God gives us other men and women that carry on the work,” he said. “Given where we are now, we need a lot of local Martin Luther King Jr.’s who are organizing in their particular communities and who are saying to our young folk, ‘we can,’ and who are saying to themselves, ‘we must.’”
In a previous version of this article, the photo caption incorrectly spelled Nicole Griffin's name. The IDS regrets this error.