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MLK Day event
Event facilitator and 2015 UD graduate Shyanne Miller presented questions to those attending a MLK Day discussion at Newark United Methodist Church on Monday, Jan. 15.

Community gathers to read the Rev. Martin Luther King’s Letter

Photos by Carlett Spike

UD members reflect on Dr. King’s Legacy

In 1963, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote an open letter on scraps of available paper while he sat in a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama. That now-famous letter was in response to eight white religious leaders who criticized King’s methods and, nearly 50 years after his death, it is often referenced when remembering Dr. King and his legacy.

About 100 people, many from the University of Delaware, gathered at the Newark United Methodist Church on Monday, Jan. 15, to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a national holiday.

Seven diverse speakers read aloud from portions of “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” The program brought together people from various groups, including the UD community, the Newark branch of the NAACP and elected officials, including Delaware’s U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, a UD alumna.

MLK Day program at Newark United Methodist Church
MLK Day program at Newark United Methodist Church

Event facilitator and 2015 UD graduate Shyanne Miller presented questions to those attending, and a microphone was passed around for those who wanted to share their thoughts. After Miller posed the question, “So what is being said here about the white moderate?” Blunt Rochester took the microphone, explaining that she was moved to speak.

“This room tonight is so beautiful,” said Blunt Rochester. “There’s black, white, young, old, millenials, everybody. I just want to thank you.”

The hourlong program concluded with a song. Everyone rose and sang in unison, “We Shall Overcome.”

After the program, event facilitator Miller said she was pleased with the turnout, but there is always more work to be done.

“I’m black. Had I been born maybe 30 years prior, I would have been right smack dab in the middle of the civil rights movement,” said Miller. “The whole point of the civil rights movement was to dismantle Jim Crow. Clearly, if we are still talking about New Jim Crow, everything he said in this letter is completely relevant today.”

Naomi Seinsoth, a member of the church and 1974 UD graduate, said she never read the letter before and found it sobering in light of today’s race relations. Dr. King would have been 89 on Monday; he was assassinated on April 4, 1968.

“I was 11 and got on the school bus one morning, and they told us Dr. King was killed,” said Seinsoth. “Nothing’s ever been the same. But his memory is with us.”

Cami Seward (left) and Florine Henderson at Monday's MLK Day event at the Newark United Methodist Church
Cami Seward (left) and Florine Henderson at Monday's MLK Day event at the Newark United Methodist Church.

Florine Henderson, who recently retired from the admissions office after working 32 years at UD, said the event allowed her to really reflect.

“I think of all that has been done to help me become who I am, to pave the way for my children and my grandchildren,” Henderson said. “To allow me to be all that I am. I think of the path. The people who have tread the path and made a path through the wilderness for me to be able to stand and be who I am today. People have given their lives for me and I think Martin Luther King was the ultimate sacrifice.”

Cami Seward, a member of the Coalition to Dismantle the New Jim Crow, organized the event. It was modeled after a similar one she attended in recent years at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. This was the first year at the church.

“I’ve been wanting a group in Newark to remember and work with the words of Martin Luther King as they are written in ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail,’” Seward said. “So, this year it’s come together.”

Day of Service

Next month, Residence Life and Housing, in collaboration with the Blue Hen Leadership Program, will host the seventh annual MLK Day of Service to honor Dr. King’s legacy.

The activity is scheduled on Saturday, Feb. 24, after the spring semester has started to give all UD students the opportunity to serve and honor Dr. King. Students will be able to sign up beginning Feb. 12.


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