On August 21, 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King stood at the pulpit in 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.
Dr. King was a day late arriving in Montreat that August in 1965 because of his efforts to help bring peace to the racial unrest in Los Angeles. The fact that he came at all is an amazing and grace-filled occasion in the history of Montreat. 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 having just been sent to Vietnam, with people burning their draft cards in protest.
And in less than three years, Dr. King would be shot and killed in Memphis while peacefully protesting for fair wages and better working conditions for the city’s garbage collectors.
Anyone who heard Dr. King speak – on television or in person – can still find that voice in their head as they recall, from memory now, 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 that landmark speech in Montreat 50 years ago to the date, the Conference Center is hosting a three-day event August 21-23, the title of which explains its intent: “Dr. King’s Unfinished Agenda: A Teach-In for Rededicating Ourselves to the Dream.”
The lineup of keynote speakers is an impressive 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; Rev. Dr. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP; Rev. Dr. Yvette Flunder, Pastor of the City of Refuge United Church of Christ in Oakland, California; Rev. Paul Roberts, president of John C. Smith Theological Seminary; and Rev. Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
The conference seeks to engage an intergenerational community in finding new ways to embrace and lift up Dr. King’s legacy and his dreams, so well-articulated in this same space on August 21, 1965.
Dr. Dean K. Thompson, president emeritus at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and vice-chair of the planning team for this conference, recalls how those who chose and were led to stand up in various ways and venues in those years were preeminently inspired by Dr. 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.
“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.”
He recalls how Dr. King’s inspiring presence and message delivered in Anderson Auditorium that year was an extraordinary, indeed, watershed event for the Montreat Conference Center and our Presbyterian communion.
“I am convinced,” says Dr. Dean Thompson these fifty years later, “that hundreds of thousands of my contemporaries owe and connect their initial witness for racial justice to King’s own incredible ministry and dream.”
The gathering around “Dr. King’s Unfinished Agenda” offers people of all ages and interests, backgrounds, and political perspectives a challenge to embrace and lift up Dr. King’s unfulfilled dream as our very own – his brave, prophetic, and educative legacy of standing up against what he persistently labeled as the horrible scourges of our national and world orders: racism, poverty, war and materialism.
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.
What: Dr. King’s Unfinished Agenda: A Teach-In for Rededicating Ourselves to the Dream
Where: Montreat Conference Center in Montreat, NC
When: August 21-23, 2015
Who: Everyone welcome
How: To register or for more information and/or housing, visit www.montreat.org/MLK or call 828.669.2911, ext. 339
Cost: Basic registration fee is $40; for those able to help provide scholarship funds for the conference, a registration of $100 is appreciated