The Lipscomb community gathered Wednesday afternoon, April 4, for a time of reflection and prayer to mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
King, a minister and one of the prominent leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, was shot at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968. Communities across the country marked the occasion with a variety of remembrances and services.
Prentice Ashford, dean of intercultural development at Lipscomb, opened the service held in the Ezell Center chapel. The service also included readings by Lipscomb students and faculty. Student Josiah Jordan read a prayer by King. Kim Reed, professor and chair of the Department of English and Modern Languages, gave a narrative of King’s life.
Excerpts from “A Letter from Birmingham Jail,” an open letter written by King on April 16, 1963, were read aloud by Michelle Steele, associate professor and academic director of the graduate program in civic leadership. The letter, written during the 1963 Birmingham campaign, was widely published, and became an important text for the Civil Rights Movement.
Students Sena Seged and Jamelun Crutchfield read the text of Amos 5:10-15 and 21-24, while Deranique Jones and Nicholas Bacon read Isaiah 58:6-9a and 61:1-4.
During the service, student Regine Lane read the closing excerpt from one of King’s most well known speeches — the iconic “I Have a Dream” speech delivered on August 28, 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. as part of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
“When we allow freedom to ring-when we let it ring from every city and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual,
‘Free at last, Free at last, Great God almighty, we are free at last!” she read.
Norma B. Burgess, dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, shared an excerpt from King’s final speech — known as “I’ve Been to the Mountain Top” — in Memphis, delivered on April 3, 1968, at the Bishop Charles Mason Temple.
“Well, I don't know what will happen now; we've got some difficult days ahead,” Burgess read. “But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life—longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will.”
“And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over, and I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land,” she continued to read. “And so I'm happy tonight; I'm not worried about anything; I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
Following the reading, the remembrance service moved to the Allen Bell Tower plaza. Participants gathered around the tower as Donna King, assistant professor of music and university carillonneur, played the hymn “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” on the carillon.
At 6:01 p.m., the time that King was assassinated, the bell tolled 39 times to represent his age at the time of his death.
Nicole Nixon, a sophomore contemporary music student from Germany, said the reflection service brought one word to mind. “Hope,” she said.
“Remembering what Martin Luther King did was a very special moment today,” said Kiana Carter, a sophomore English literature major from Nashville.
Shadani Fleming, a sophomore graphic design major from the Caribbean, agreed.
“It is very special that Lipscomb took time out today for a service in remembrance of Dr. King and the influence he had,” said Fleming.
Deranique Jones, a freshman biology major from Italy, said taking a moment to reflect on the impact of Dr. King “is very important.”
“Especially as this is the 50th anniversary of his assassination, it’s good to take time to look back at all that he has done to advance human rights in general and also as a faith-based institution to recognize not just him as a leader in the Civil Rights Movement but also for his work as a pastor and all that he has done for this country,” said Jones.
Rachel Solomon said she thinks that stopping to reflect on King’s death is about “motivation.”
“I think today shows us that we are better than what we were, but there is still work to be done and places to be,” said Solomon, strategic communication major from Nashville. “It gives me motivation as a sophomore to realize that I can make a difference. Hearing about the sit-ins and realizing that they were my age. It just shows me that you have to be a certain age and have certain credentials to make a difference.”
Eden Melles, a freshman political science major from Florida, said that marking the anniversary of King’s death has an impact on the future.
“Today sets a precedent for the future,” she said, “so we know how to move forward. Also, given the climate of the country and relationships today, it shows us at a time when it’s hard sometimes to have hope for the future, that to take time to reflect on how far we’ve come helps to recharge us and to let us know that it is possible especially having someone like Dr. King as an example. It helps to know that these things are attainable. It shows what can be done in someone’s lifetime.”