U. honors MLK at Writers House

The Daily Pennsylvanian
February 18, 1999

To honor the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr., the Kelly Writers House held a reading of anti-violence writings that typified the ideals of the charismatic leader. The event was part of the University community's six-week celebration of Martin Luther King's birthday. "We are here to commemorate Martin Luther King as a person and to commemorate his ideas," said English graduate student Carolyn Jacobson, a Writers House committee member and organizer of the event.

The program provided an opportunity for people to express King's philosophy of non-violence through the medium of the spoken word by reading speeches, poetry and prose - which inspired many people during the height of the civil rights movement and continue to inspire many still. The evening commenced with a reading by a group of Penn employees of King's "The American Dream" sermon, which was originally delivered at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on July 4, 1965. The sermon denounced segregation as something that is "morally wrong and relegates persons to the status of things."

As stated by King, "Violence is impractical as well as amoral." The speech tackled issues of racial injustice and class discrimination. The speech was followed by a reading from fourth-year English graduate student Erik Simpson of a speech given by Walter Raucshenbusch, a member of the Social Gospel Movement of the early 20th century who had a great influence on King's ideas of religion as a tool for social change. Raucshenbusch spoke of "a revolutionary Christianity which will call the world evil and change it," as opposed to a Christianity that called the world evil and abandoned it.

English graduate student Mytili Jagannathan then proceeded to read from King's "Declaration of Independence from the Vietnam War," which was first delivered at the Riverside Church in New York City in 1967. "War is an enemy of the poor, and we have to attack it as such," Jagannathan quoted from the speech. When asked why she chose to take part in this event and why she chose this particular sermon to read from, Jagannathan said, "I decided to speak to bring attention to the anti-imperialist King," adding that she wanted to draw attention to aspects of King's philosophy aside from his "I Have a Dream" speech, which is often emphasized at such memorials. "I am very interested in how ideas move through history and make change," she said. "King wasn't just an amazing speaker, but also an amazing writer," said Heather Starr, residential coordinator for the Writers House. "Its only when people take his sermons and read them out loud, as they have here, do they feel the power behind his words."