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Thursday, April 15, 2021

50 years of celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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Indiana Christian Leadership Conference (ICLC) is getting ready for its 50th year of commemorating the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. with a choir concert Jan. 13 and a celebration service Jan. 21 at St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church. Established as an affiliate of the Southern Christian Leadership Council, ICLC began celebrating King in January 1969, nine months after the civil rights leader was assassinated.

The choir concert will feature choirs from around Indiana, including local choirs from St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church and Light of the World Missionary Baptist Church, according to ICLC Executive Director Marilyn Gill. Anne Byfield, presiding prelate of the 16th Episcopal District in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, will be the speaker at the Jan. 21 service. ICLC will also give Dennis Bland, president of the Center for Leadership Development, the Drum Major for Justice Award. (In a 1968 sermon in Atlanta, King said, “Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice.”)

Remembering King and his impact on the world tugs at the hearts of many, including those who weren’t alive during the Civil Rights Movement and have no formal connections to it. But it’s more personal for Tom Brown, president of ICLC. Brown’s father, Andrew Brown, founded ICLC and was heavily involved with King. He was with King at a civil rights march in Selma, Alabama, and hosted King at his house in Indianapolis since it was difficult to find a safe place for Black people to stay in the city. Brown also helped found Indiana Black Expo. He passed away in 1996.

Now Brown, who was 14 years old when King stayed at his house, believes there needs to be a “revitalization” of the movement his father and King worked so hard to cultivate, and that includes better education about what they were fighting for.

“We were not looking for civil rights,” Brown said. “We were looking for freedom and liberation from oppression.”

Brown said the movement got its “civil rights” branding from politicians and media who wanted to make it more palatable for other people. He added the push for freedom and liberation is something that continues to this day.

Brown said he hopes those who attend see the event as not just a celebration of King, but an educational experience that prepares them for challenges the Black community still faces.

“I hope they get an inspiration and maybe an awareness that would inspire them to keep up the good fight,” he said. “I’m speaking of the good fight of being nonviolent, not so violent like we are today.”

Whether there are enough events like this celebration is beside the point. With each passing year, fewer people who worked directly with King or in the Civil Rights Movement more generally will be around to tell their tales. ICLC is believed to be the only organization in Indiana that celebrated King’s legacy on Jan. 15, 1969, on what would have been his 40th birthday, and the significance of the event has not waned over the years.

“We’ve got to get more tellers of the history,” Brown said.

 

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

Anne Byfield

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