“All in all, it was moving, emotional and representative of the kind of tribute deserving of MLK, 52 years after his assassination,” said Faith Morris, chief marketing & external affairs officer for the National Civil Rights Museum.
“We all held hands virtually, sheltering in place.”
On Saturday, the 52nd anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, the National Civil Rights Museum (NCRM) hosted a virtual commemoration for viewers who tuned in across the nation.
Dynamic excerpts of iconic speeches, moving spirituals and memorable celebrity music performances relived the poignant moments of the landmark 50th anniversary commemoration, staged in 2018. The COVID-19 pandemic made it impossible to hold the traditional gathering around the balcony where Dr. King was gunned down.
Many Facebook Live viewers initially were unaware that the “live” was a series of video feeds of the celebration two years ago. Live texting by several viewers clarified the time frame when some concern was expressed about the lack of social distancing.
“Because of COVID-19, we could not have the commemoration as we usually do – from the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, which is now the site of our National Civil Rights Museum,” said Morris. “And so we went virtual and presented a weeklong commemoration: ‘#RememberingMLK: The Man. The Movement. The Moment.’”
Saturday’s observance was the culmination of this year’s anniversary remembrance. Civil rights figures and heavy hitters in peace and justice movements around the globe were featured on the virtual program.
Dr. Hasan Kwame Jeffries, professor of History at Ohio State University, said the museum was built on “hallowed ground” to honor not only Dr. King, but also “a people who never surrendered their humanity though they were so long denied their human rights.”
Dr. James (Jim) Lawson, the civil rights movement strategist and tactician and former pastor of Centenary Methodist Church in Memphis, recalled the process of getting Dr. King here to support the strike by the city’s sanitation workers in 1968.
“After the assassination, every campaign for freedom and equality chips away at the cruelty of our land to reveal a more humane society,” said Lawson.
The national founder of the Operation PUSH/Rainbow Coalition, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, called the National Civil Rights Museum the “site of the crucifixion.”
“We went from this balcony to the White House balcony in 40 years,” Jackson said. “The same man who was called a communist, the same man who they said could not end war, today he is exalted. He is still alive. Let nothing break your spirit today.”
The commemoration was steeped in storytelling, revealing little-known facts and a deeper understanding of Dr. King.
Also included were: spirituals by the HBCU 105-Voice Choir, master harmonicist Frederic Yonnet, saxophonist Kirk Whalum, vocalist Deborah Manning Thomas and rapper, Tyke T.
The speech portion of the observance ended with highlights from Dr. King’s last public address, now known as “The Mountaintop Speech,” delivered on April 3 at Mason Temple. His voice is heard delivering the celebrated, rhetorical finale:
“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. 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. 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.”
And then, perfectly timed, just as it happened on April 4, 2018, at 6:01 p.m., when the fatal shot rang out, bells began to toll as Dr. King’s favorite song – “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” – played.
Cameras panned the crowd, capturing the emotions of the moment.