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Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018 12:10 am

MLK’s legacy honored at museum

The African-American museum will be open with special hours on King Day, Monday, Jan. 15. The hours are noon-4 p.m., with a program at 2 p.m. Kathryn Harris presents, “What do you say on a day like today?”
Photo by Carol Weems

 

When a single rifle shot in Memphis, Tennessee, cut short the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King at age 39 on April 4, 1968, it cemented the iconic status of the civil rights leader and towering orator. In honor of the 50th anniversary of the assassination, the Springfield and Central Illinois African American History Museum is hosting an ongoing exhibit honoring the 50th anniversary of the assassination, developed in collaboration with the Illinois State Museum. An opening reception was held Jan. 4 at the museum, located near the entrance of Oak Ridge Cemetery.

The museum itself is well worth a visit, featuring several impressive displays covering subjects such as the middle passage and the history of black U.S. marshals. The King exhibit is handsomely mounted, presenting a chronological breakdown of the man’s life and legacy. The opening was well-attended despite the bitter cold outside, and had an overall celebratory, inclusive feeling. Among those present were Marc Bell, a retired Illinois State Police master sergeant who is running for 99th district state representative, and Angel Sides, who is running for 13th district state representative.

Museum board member Nell Clay acted as master of ceremonies for the event, explaining that the exhibit had been in the works since August. Presentations by various speakers were interspersed with well-chosen YouTube clips of King’s speeches, including his celebrated “I have a dream” speech from the 1963 March on Washington as well as his stirring final speech – “I’ve been to the mountaintop” – from April 1968 in Memphis.

Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder spoke briefly, describing the museum as a way of connecting to the city’s overall history. “Everyone knows Lincoln,” he said, “but we need to promote and embrace all of our history.” Langfelder mentioned that the 1908 race riots in Springfield led to the formation of the NAACP and that President Barack Obama had his legislative roots in Springfield, following in the steps of Lincoln. “That’s the trifecta of race relations in the country, right there” he said. “Lincoln, the NAACP and Obama.” The mayor also mentioned that his father, Ossie Langfelder, was the first to commemorate the 1908 riots during his time as mayor in the late 1980s, and said there are plans to rededicate the existing commemorations this year.

The evening’s featured speaker was Dr. Paul Hudson, a professor of business at Lincoln Land Community College who also works with LLCC’s Black Student Union. Introduced by Nell Clay as “not just a professor but someone committed to all of the positive aspects of our youth,” Hudson described his parents as active participants in the civil rights movement. The topic of his presentation was “ethical consciousness,” a trait which he credited to King and said that all should strive for. Drawing a connection between his own business teachings and King’s work, Hudson said MLK’s presence in support of the Memphis sanitation workers strike indicated that he was poised to begin primarily addressing labor and economics as the next phase of the civil rights struggle. Hudson suggested that this shift in focus may have been a factor in the timing of his death. “Dr. King reached the mountaintop of ethics and what he saw when we got there was – we need some dough,” he said.

Hudson praised King’s bravery in the face of strong opposition and closed by reciting Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If,” including the lines “being lied about, don’t deal in lies, / Or being hated, don’t give way to hating.” The evening’s program concluded with a clip of King reading his own self-penned eulogy: “If you want to, say that I was a drum major. Say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.”

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