Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebrated at Middlebury College

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(Host) For the seventh year, Middlebury College celebrated the birth of Martin Luther King Junior with a prayer breakfast. Like many of the events around the region, it was filled with history, song and emotion.

VPR’s Steve Zind was on campus.

(Zind) The morning began and ended with music. Middlebury artist-in residence Dr. Francois Clemmons directed the choir and, alone, performed “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” – a reminder that the modern civil rights movement was born in church.

(Sound of Clemens singing.)

(Zind) A succession of Middlebury College students, whose lives began long after King’s ended, read excerpts from his speeches.

(Marcus Hughes) “We must meet hate with love. We must meet physical force with soul force….”

(Zind) Marcus Hughes of the class of 2006 read from King’s famous “Give us the Ballot” speech of 1957.

(Hughes) “He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword and history is replete with the bleached bones of nations that failed to follow this command.”

(Zind) Hughes says even today King’s words carry a rare power.

(Hughes) “I could relate to it so much. He had so much passion in that whole excerpt. That’s why I picked it.”

(Zind) King once said the arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Hughes says King’s words resonate with him because while today’s injustices may not be as overt, they remain.

One who attended the breakfast was Les Blau. Blow was a student at Middlebury in 1965. He’d read in the paper that college students from across the country were going to Alabama to join Martin Luther King Jr. in a voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery. One day as he was walking across the Otter Creek bridge, Blau ran into a classmate.

(Blau) “And I said, ‘How can we not have people from Middlebury? How can we not be represented there?'”

(Zind) Blau and about 30 other Middlebury College students drove to Alabama and joined the march to Montgomery. As a white middle class Jewish kid, Blau says he’d never seen prejudice and discrimination firsthand. He was shocked and frightened. But he was not alone. Twenty-five thousand people marched to Montgomery. Within months, congress passed the Voting Rights Act and for the first time in the nation’s history large numbers of southern blacks were registered to vote.

(Sound of choir singing) “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me round, turn me round, turn me round….”

(Zind) For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in Middlebury.

(Singing continues) “…Keep on walking, keep on talking, marching up the king’s highway.”

(Sound of applause.)

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