Last Sunday afternoon we participated in our annual interfaith service in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. It was a success by every measure. One of the highlights was our Youth Choir singing I can Make a Difference. Ed Thompson’s arrangement and conducting, and our Youth Choir’s voices and their strong sense of presence was very moving.
Jo Shute co-conducted the Bell Choir, adding a gentle touch to begin and end the program. Other music included a voice soloist, Kayley Petch, from the Christian Science Church, and a violin solo performed by Samuel Weiser a youth from the Conservative Synagogue. The Reverend Tisha Jermin, from the United Methodist Church, offered a moving liturgical dance.
Dorothy Bryce has been struggling with health issues, so she couldn’t be there, but her fingerprints were all over the program, since she did so much of the behind-the-scenes work, making certain that we had representation and participation from a wide variety of our faith communities. She recruited the featured speakers, two long-time, notable Westporters who are veterans of the Civil Rights movement: Tracy Sugarman, who was welcomed as Westport’s artist in residence, and Woody Klein, who was introduced as Westport’s historian in residence.
Tracy told the story of his involvement, with 250,000 others, at the famous I Have a Dream speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. He talked about carrying his young daughter on his shoulders and getting a great viewing spot just forty feet from the podium. Just as Dr. King began his memorable speech a woman beside him fainted. He and a couple of others came to her aid, finally reviving her and helping her to her feet just as King’s sermon-on-the-mount came to an end.
“I was there and I didn’t hear a word he said,” Tracy confessed with a smile. Then he told other stories about his and his family’s involvement in the movement, all of which tied directly to the election of our first African-American President.
Woody Klein, who I had the privilege of introducing as a personal friend as well as our resident historian, read from an interview he had, one-on-one, with Martin Luther King, Jr. on August 30, 1965. “He was a much milder man in person than in public. His square frame stood slightly hunched over as he pointed to a chair for his visitor. He seemed, indeed, a very modest man.”
Woody talked about a question he put to King, in response to King’s conceding that the recent rioting in Los Angeles and other parts of the country have hurt the movement: “Do you think that President Johnson should tour the country’s ghettos?” It was more suggestion than question, and the next day the New York World Telegram ran a six-column headline: “King Bids Johnson Tour Ghettos,” and the next day the New York Times picked it up.
Tracy Sugarman and Woody Klein captured the audience with their personal accounts, drawing us into pieces of history that led to the election of Barack Obama. One of our ABC scholars, Jahari Dodd, an active member of Norfield Congregational Church, read his favorite portions of King’s I Have a Dream speech. It was a perfect prelude to Tuesday’s Inauguration.
With renewed hope!