On April 16, the 50th anniversary of the day that Martin Luther King Jr. first began writing his famed “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” 26 students, staff and faculty took turns reading King’s letter to an engaged audience on the steps of the Gifford Amphitheatre.
The memorial was just one of hundreds in a “Worldwide Celebration,” which saw readings of King’s letter in countries across all seven continents. The Birmingham Public Library organized the international celebration and encouraged groups to perform demonstrations wherever King’s words would reach the largest audience — in museums, schools, public parks and coffee shops.
“We know that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed,” read student participant Molly Stuart ’15.5 from King’s letter, as audience members repeated the words back to her.
“From the start, we saw this as street theater – an event that would be large and loud enough to attract an audience,” wrote Dana Yeaton, visiting assistant professor of theater in an email. Yeaton directed the demonstration. “I wanted the spirit of a rally, which made me think of Occupy Wall Street, and their human megaphone technique.”
To host the event, Yeaton worked with Kya Adetoro ’13, Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion Mary Kay Schueneman, Associate Professor of History William Hart and Special Assistant to the Dean of the College- Jennifer Herrera.
Students, staff and faculty were visibly moved by King’s words and the energy generated by the public demonstration.
“I am very happy I participated,” wrote Chris De La Cruz ’13 in an email. “I think what affected me the most was just the variety of voices that participated from students of all different years to faculty and staff as well.
“As small as it was, I honestly have never seen an event with so much participation from different areas on campus,” he added. “I guess it shows how much King’s words really do unite people.”
For Yeaton, the spirit of collaboration amongst participants was most inspiring.
“Seeing the passion for justice in each of those speakers, their admiration for King’s ideals and his courage, all that reminds me of our desperate need to come together. To hear each other. Especially today, with the events of Patriot’s Day so heavy in the air.”