On August 21, 1965, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King stood in the pulpit at Montreat’s Anderson Auditorium, his words rising like passages of scripture written off the day’s headlines. His voice, part lullaby, part rolling thunder, filled the room and spilled out into a troubled world.
King was a day late arriving in Montreat because of his efforts to help bring peace to racial unrest in Los Angeles. That he came at all is an amazing. Times were unsettled: the Selma marches and Bloody Sunday in Alabama three months earlier; the recent murder of Malcolm X; and the first American combat troops had just been sent to Vietnam, and young men were burning their draft cards in protest.
In less than three years, King would be shot and killed in Memphis while peacefully protesting for fair wages and better working conditions for the city’s garbage collectors.
Those who heard King speak—on television or in person—still hear his voice in their head as they recall, from memory, the things he said:
“I have a dream.”
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
In celebration and commemoration of King’s landmark speech at Montreat 50 years ago to the date, the Conference Center is hosting a three-day event August 21-23: “Dr. King’s Unfinished Agenda: A Teach-In for Rededicating Ourselves to the Dream.”
The lineup of keynote speakers contains a roster of nationally known authors, theologians, and Civil Rights leaders: U.S. Rep. John Lewis; Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Leonard Pitts Jr.; Dr. Tony McNeill, director of worship and arts at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta; Bishop Vashti McKenzie, the first woman elected bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church; New York Times columnist and CNN commentator Charles M. Blow; the Rev. Dr. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP; the Rev. Dr. Yvette Flunder, Pastor of the City of Refuge United Church of Christ in Oakland, California; the Rev. Paul Roberts, president of John C. Smith Theological Seminary; and the Rev. Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
The conference seeks to engage an intergenerational community to find new ways to embrace and carry on King’s legacy and his dreams, so well-articulated in this same space on August 21, 1965.
The Rev. Dr. Dean K. Thompson, president emeritus at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and vice-chair of the planning team for the conference, recalls how those who chose and were led to stand up in various ways and venues during those years were preeminently inspired by King:
"Before a major protest or demonstration, Dr. King and colleagues would gather the participants for prayer, fasting, singing, and a ‘teach-in’ or educational training. The context often was intergenerational,” he said.
“Thus, our impending conference aspires to serve as an intergenerational ‘teach-in’ that will be undergirded by worship, the singing of spirituals and freedom songs, inspiring oratory and preaching, and nurture for ongoing action. We especially hope to focus on Dr. King’s own courageous, pastoral, and prophetic struggles against what he signified as the scourges of racism, poverty, war, and materialism. Moreover, we want to foster and call for rededication to his unfulfilled dream.”
Thompson recalls how King’s inspiring presence and message delivered in Anderson Auditorium in 1965 was an extraordinary, indeed, watershed event for the Montreat Conference Center and the Presbyterian communion.
“I am convinced,” says Thompson, “that hundreds of thousands of my contemporaries owe and connect their initial witness for racial justice to King’s own incredible ministry and dream.”
Montreat Conference Center is one of three national conference centers affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), annually visited by over 35,000 people seeking physical and spiritual renewal in the beautiful mountains of western North Carolina just east of Asheville.
Registration and more information is available at http://www.montreat.org/MLK/ or by calling 828.669.2911, ext. 339. The basic registration fee is $40. For those able to help provide scholarship funds for the conference, a registration fee of $100 is appreciated.