A host of activities are planned this month to honor the legacy of Baptist minister and slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
Lander University’s history and philosophy department is hosting a panel discussion about King at 5 p.m. Friday in the Abney Cultural Center auditorium on campus. Panelists will present information and a question and answer session follows. The event is free and open to the public.
For the second year, the Arts Center of Greenwood is hosting Connecting with the Dream, a free, family-friendly event honoring King on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, from 1 to 3 p.m. Jan. 20.
There will be activities, a performance by the local Martin Luther King Mass Choir and a traveling show on loan from nonprofit The King Center in Atlanta, as well as an exhibit in the Arts Center’s main gallery for Black History Month. The traveling exhibit from The King Center will be on view in the art education gallery at the Arts Center and open to the public from Jan. 20 through Feb. 28.
This follows the 16th Annual Dream Builders March in Greenwood, which starts at 9:30 a.m. Jan, 20, at the Greenwood County Courthouse and ends at Weston Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, with a program on King.
Sylvia Martin, Arts Center education director, said Connecting with the Dream started last year as a way to foster community building through King’s message of love, equality and progression.
“The Arts Center is also working with youth from Community Initiatives to create a banner in conjunction with this event that will be hung at the Arts Center,” Martin said. “The arts are unmatched in their power to challenge us to think beyond our own life experiences. They inspire us to be more empathetic and compassionate toward others.”
Connecting with the Dream 2020 is sponsored by a grant from Greenwood County Community Foundation.
In planning events, Martin is collaborating with several people, including Chris Thomas, director of the GLEAMNS Benjamin E. Mays Historic Site in Greenwood, and Myron Hill, who directs the MLK Mass Choir, among others.
Myron D. Hill, director/president of the Greenwood Area Martin Luther King Jr. Mass Choir said this non-auditioned community choir is open to all who like to sing.
“It’s good to be able to do what we do outside the church,” Hill said. “Singing is an art and to be asked to perform at the Arts Center is a wonderful experience.” Hill also directs the Abbeville-Greenwood District Choir of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Benjamin E. Mays, a former Morehouse College president and civil rights leader, of Epworth, was described by King as a “spiritual mentor” and Mays delivered King’s eulogy at his funeral in 1968.
Chris Thomas, director of the GLEAMNS Dr. Benjamin E. Mays Historic Preservation Site in Greenwood, is moderating the King panel discussion Friday at Lander University.
“I had been trying to get the traveling exhibit from The King Center and Sylvia Martin with the Arts Center got it,” Thomas said. “Several of us have been talking about how more could be done here to honor Dr. King and the holiday. There is opportunity to educate others about King. Because of my job at the Mays Site, I wanted to tie that into the area’s unique history.”
Both King and his mentor, Benjamin E. Mays, connected with The Penn Center on St. Helena Island, Thomas said. It is the site of the former Penn School, one of the country’s first schools for formerly enslaved individuals.
“King was staying in a cottage on the island when he wrote the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech,” Thomas said. “I invited the director of The Penn Center to be part of the panel discussion at Lander. I think discussions, the march, choirs and art events combined are a step in the right direction to focus on the life and legacy of King. Benjamin Mays was influential in that and he brought the notion of the social gospel to its zenith at Morehouse College, where King was one of its brightest stars. Mays’ life and education started here in Greenwood County.”
Thomas said King and the civil rights movement “are very pivotal to where we are in modern America.”
“To reflect upon it and discuss it is a great thing,” Thomas said. “Our community should take pride in knowing we had contributions to the civil rights era and some of it was birthed and born right here in Greenwood.”
Donald Burton with Dream Builders of Greenwood, said his annual MLK marches in Greenwood grow each time he has one.
“There is serious division in this country,” Burton said, noting a focus of the march is togetherness and healing, from a local level and beyond.
“King would not be sitting back and not addressing issues that divide us,” Burton said. “Nor should we.”