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‘Remembering MLK: The Man. The Movement. The Moment’

Set against a backdrop of operatic-styled “Negro spirituals” by the W. Crimm Singers from Tennessee State University’s Big Blue Opera Initiatives, the National Civil Rights Museum staged a memorable program: “Remembering MLK: The Man. The Movement. The Moment” Monday (April 4).

The balcony of the Lorraine Motel (now part of the National Civil Rights Museum), where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated 54 years ago Monday, bore black drapes of mourning.

NCRM President Dr. Russell Wigginton, hosting his first April 4 King commemoration, offered warm words of welcome to begin a two-hour hybrid presentation, livestreamed with uniquely planned highlights.

Dr. Russell Wigginton and Dr. Leslie D. Callahan. (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku/The New Tri-State Defender)

Program participants walked out on the balcony, where King was shot, to greet the crowd.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., who was with King when he was shot, was greeted with cheers and a standing ovation as he stepped onto the balcony.

Jackson briefly spoke to the crowd in his customary call-and-response style. He attributed “immortality” to King.

“I am somebody,” Jackson said, the crowd responding in kind. “Everybody is somebody. He lives. He lives. He lives. He lives. He lives. He lives. He will live as long as we remember him.”

The Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., of which Dr. King was a member, presented a ceremonial changing of the wreath on the balcony and fraternal tributes of honor for their “fallen fraternity brother.”

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland encouraged everyone to “volunteer and make a difference” in their communities. Dr. King left his example, Strickland said.

An inspiring keynote speaker, Dr. Leslie D. Callahan, the first female pastor of St. Paul Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and executive officer for Howard University Religious Affairs, recounted Dr. King’s work and legacy, challenging everyone to follow his blueprint of altruism and humanity.

However, a delightful program highlight was Crimm Singers’ vocal presentation. Also known as the Wakanda Chorale, their spirituals inspired the multi-racial audience to sing along.

(Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku/The New Tri-State Defender)

Perhaps, the most moving highlight was the moment of silence, always at 6:01 p.m., the time when Dr. King was killed. The eerily still period gave solemn tribute to the sacredness of the courtyard, where King’s car still sits.

Families of color, as well as those of European descent came to honor King. Children came with parents, eager to learn their history. One couple, in particular, is making the fight for equality their life’s work in retirement.

Paul and Cynthia Klein came to be inspired and encouraged as they stand with those fighting for equality and justice today.

Paul and Cynthia Klein. (Photo: Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell/The New Tri-State Defender)

“I’m originally from Idaho, and I voted for Rev. Jesse Jackson in 1988 (when Jackson ran for U.S. President),” said Paul Klein. “We came to honor the legacy of Dr. King.

“It was important to us to show up on the day he was lynched. Most whites say ‘assassinated,’ but it was different from John Kennedy being assassinated because of the racial element…Being here today is so inspiring.”

Marion, Arkansas City Councilwoman Sherry Holliman at the National Civil Rights Museum. (Photo: Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell/The New Tri-State Defender)

Marion, Arkansas City Councilwoman Sherry Holliman drove across the bridge to witness the presentation at the NCRM.

“I have been to the museum several times, but April 4 is always special,” said Holliman. “It’s good to be with people of like mind, and the crowd is so beautiful, all different races coming here today with one purpose. I think Dr. King would be proud.”

A Memphis mother, LaMonica Vaughn, brought her daughter, Amyia Vaughn, 12, to the museum, because April 4 is a day that “has a lot of meaning.”

LaMonica Vaughn, with her daughter, Amyia Vaughn, 12, during the 54th commemoration of the death in Memphis of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Photo: Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell/The New Tri-State Defender)

LaMonica Vaughn continued, “I was not born when Dr. King was killed. But I learned our history about the civil rights movement.

“I feel it is important to show our children just what Dr. King and others sacrificed so they could enjoy the freedoms we all have today. Children who know their history will understand they who they are and carry themselves with dignity.”

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