Martin Luther King Jr.: A Celebration of Life

SONG: The Ballad of Martin Luther King " by Pete Seeger.

GIRL'S VOICES: Those words will never be forgotten. Martin Luther King will live forever.

BOY'S VOICES: How can someone live forever?

GIRL'S VOICES: By being remembered. We can remember Martin Luther King.

CHORUS: We can remember his birth.

FIRST CHILD: Martin Luther King Jr. was born in a big white and grey house on a quiet street in a black neighborhood in Atlanta, Georgia on January 15, 1929. Both his father and his grandfather were well-known Baptist ministers. They had done much to make Atlanta the best educational center for black people in all the United States.

CHORUS: We can remember his first lesson in how cruel people can be.

SECOND CHILD: As a child, Martin was known as M.L., so that he wouldn't be called by the same name as his father. He became friendly with two little white boys whose parents ran the store across the street. When they started school, however, his friends attended an all-white school in a different neighborhood. Soon they began to avoid M.L. One day when he went to call on them to go out to play, their parents told him coldly not to come there any more. 'Because you're colored", they said.

CHORUS: We can remember how he first learned to protest against unfair treatment.

THIRD CHILD: One day the Reverend King took little M.L. down town to buy a pair of shoes. They sat in a chair to wait for service. A clerk approached them, rudely ordering them to the back of the store.

R.L.'s  father replied, We will either buy our shoes right here or we will not buy them in this store at all. Then they got up and walked back out to the street

FOURTH CHILD: Another time, when M.L. was out for a drive with his father, they accidentally went through a stop sign. A policeman pulled them over to the curb and said, Alright, boy, let's see your licence.' The Reverend King replied, I am no person's boy. My son, here, is a boy. I am a man. And until you address me as one, I shall not do as you say.

CHORUS: We can remember how he learned to be proud of his race.

FIFTH CHILD: One day the black poet, Langston Hughes, came to visit M.L.'s school. The poet read one of his poems to the class. This is the poem.


I Too
I, too, sing America,
I am a darker brother,
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes.
But I laugh
And eat well
And grow strong.
I'll sit at the table
When company comes.
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen!"
They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed --
For I, too, am America.

CHORUS: We can remember, too, Martin Luther King Jr.'s first lesson in the uselessness of violence as a means of settling differences.

SIXTH CHILD: One day at after class M.L. accidentally brushed against one of the school's tough guys. The bully threatened to beat up on him. M.L. apologized and tried to reason with the other boy.  What will your hurting me prove? he asked. But the bully and his gang insisted on fighting, and M.L. was badly beaten. Bad feelings on both sides were aggravated by the violence and made much more lasting as a result of it.

CHORUS: We can remember how he learned about the daily humiliation.

SEVENTH CHILD: Once, when he was a high school student, Martin entered an oratorical contest, held in another town in Georgia. His teacher, Miss Bradley, accompanied him on the long bus ride. Martin performed well, but did not win. When he and Miss Bradley boarded the bus for the trip home, they sat down immediately on front of a group of black people in the back of the bus. Eventually the bus became full. As soon as a couple of white people were forced to stand, the driver stopped the bus and ordered Miss Bradley and Martin to give up their seats. When they hesitated the driver began to advance in a threatening manner. Miss Bradley, feeling responsible for Martin's safety, reluctantly obeyed. They stood for the remainder of the trip.

CHORUS: We can remember how he prepared himself to become a religious leader and teacher.

EIGHTH CHILD: Martin entered Morehouse College at the age of fifteen. After two years of study he decided to become a Baptist minister. Upon graduating in 1947 with a BA. he worked for a while as an assistant pastor in his father's church. In the Autumn of 1948 he entered the Crozier Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. There he was one of only six black students in a student population of 100. He graduated with in 1951 as the most outstanding student of the year, receiving a fellowship for further study in Divinity. He then attended Boston University, earning his doctoral degree in 1954.

CHORUS: We can remember how willingly and responsibly he chose his lifetime commitments.

NINTH CHILD: In 1953 he married a fellow student, Coretta Scott. They returned to the South, responding to a call from a Baptist church in Montgomery, Alabama. A few months later the US Supreme Court handed down its famous anti-segregation ruling. 'Separate but equal is a mirage', they declared. They pointed out that, in the cultural context of the time, separate facilities could only increase the current situation of social and political inequality based on race.

CHORUS: We can remember how he became a leader in the civil rights movement for American black people.

TENTH CHILD: It hadn't taken long for Martin Luther King to realize that there were two separate communities in Montgomery, one white and one black. It was there, in his new home city, that the turning point in bus segregation occurred. It was the point at which the black people began to say, "We're not going to take it any more! In 1955, a black seamstress named Rosa Parks boarded a bus after a hard day's work. She sat down in the front seat of what was designated as "the Negro section' -- immediately behind the section reserved for whites. Soon the bus was full and a few white passengers were standing. As usual, the bus driver ordered the blacks in the front of their section to give up their seats. Mrs. Parks looked the driver in the eye and quietly but firmly told him, No! The driver then called the police and she was promptly arrested, just as black people had been arrested for similar actions numerous times before. But this time it was different. This time the news of Mrs. Park's arrest was heard around the world.

CHORUS: This time black Americans had a leader who was to fire the imagination and gain the respect of civilized people everywhere.

FIRST CHILD: Martin Luther King helped to organize and direct a bus boycott. It lasted a full year until another landmark decision of the Supreme Court established that bus segregation (no less than that occurring in schools) was unconstitutional. There followed many more struggles and considerable bloodshed between this time and the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Bill giving black Americans the right to vote without discrimination.

SONG: 'Those Three Are On My Mind' by Harry Belafonte.

SECOND CHILD: Through it all, Martin Luther King inspired his people and, indeed, all of America with his integrity and commitment to justice and nonviolence in the face of cruelty, humiliation and even the murder of innocents.

SONG: 'Birmingham Sunday' by Langston Hughes. Sung by Joan Baez.

CHORUS: We can also remember Martin Luther King for his warnings about the dangers of gullibility.

THIRD CHILD: In one of his famous sermons he said, 'Rarely do we find people who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions... This prevalent tendency toward softmindedness is found in our unbelievable gullibility.... Few people have the toughness of mind to judge critically and to discern the true from the false... Softminded individuals are prone to embrace all kinds of superstitions.... It often invades religion. This is why religions have sometimes rejected new truths with dogmatic passion... It has also led to a widespread belief that there is a conflict between science and religion. But this is not true.... Softmindedness is one of the basic causes of race prejudice.'

CHORUS: We can remember what he said about the need for a tender heart. FOURTH CHILD: Martin Luther King reminded us that a tough mind is not enough. 'We must also cultivate a tender heart," he said. 'In nonviolent resistance we have a way that combines tough mindedness with soft heartedness. It avoids the complacency and do-nothingness of the soft-minded and the bitterness and violence of the hard-hearted.... We must work passionately and unrelentingly for full stature as citizens, but may it never be said that, to gain it, we used the methods of falsehood, malice, hatred and violence.'

CHORUS: We can remember his call for a worldwide good-neighbor policy.

FIFTH CHILD: He preached, 'This is a call to a way of life which will transform our immanent cosmic elegy into a psalm of creative fulfillment. No longer can we afford the luxury of passing by on the other side. Such folly was once called moral failure; today it will lead to universal suicide. We cannot long survive spiritually separated in a world that is geographically together. In the final analysis, I must not ignore the wounded man on life's Jericho Road, because he is a part of me and I am a part of him.'

CHORUS: We can remember how the whole world honored Martin Luther King Jr.

SIXTH CHILD: In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was named 'Man of the Year' by Time magazine. In 1964, he was awarded the Nobel Prize -- only the second black person to receive it. He donated the money to the American Civil Rights movement.

CHORUS: And we can remember his death, knowing that it marked not the end, but the beginning of the influence on human history of Martin Luther King.

SONG: 'Martin Luther King' by Harry Belafonte, to be followed by "Abraham, Martin and John', also by Belafonte. (Repeat the first verse to signify the end of the presentation.)

'Has anybody here seen my friend Martin?
Can you tell me where he'>s gone?
He freed a lot of people, but it seems the good die young.
I just looked around and he was gone.'

CHORUS: We just looked around --- and he was gone.

A "playlet" from Hutcheon, Pat Duffy, On the Shoulders of Giants: Senior-level Curriculum for Unitarian Universalist Churches, 1987).