Dorothy Dempsey turned her thoughts Sunday to Martin Luther King by attending Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis as a member of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Knights of St. Peter Claver.
The local branch of this Catholic fraternal organization turns out each year to celebrate the life and legacy of the civil rights leader who was born on Jan. 15, 1929, and assassinated on April 4, 1968, when he was 39.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. In remembering that historic event, the first name that comes to mind to most people is Reverend Martin Luther King and his I Have a Dream Speech. But few know that the person responsible for a large part of the organization of that march and also for motivating King to his non violent method of activism was another civil rights activist, Bayard Rustin.
A few years ago a St. Louis non-profit organization, Beloved Streets of America, conducted a study about streets throughout the country which bear the name of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The study found the majority of MLK streets are unsafe and crime-ridden. Many are “located in distressed neighborhoods, considered areas where predominately poor blacks live, and viewed as places where whites and non-blacks seldom travel,” according to the organization.
Local dignitaries and politicians filled the rotunda of the Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis on Monday for the city's 44th annual celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
The city's celebration is the second-oldest in the country, behind only Atlanta. In addition to celebrating the slain civil rights leader, who would have been 83 on January 15th, most speakers also rejoiced in the second inauguration of President Barack Obama, who took the oath of office in Washington, DC as the proceedings took place.
Americans are well-aware of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. His fight for justice was aimed at changing the world, but during the fifties and sixties sought to resonate most heavily in his home country. Today his legacy has been celebrated tenfold – there are numerous streets and landmarks dedicated in his honor, the government designated his birthday as a national holiday in 1986, and just last year he became the first African American to have a monument designed in his honor on the National Mall.
The third Monday in January may be marked as a National Day of Service, but Christ Church Cathedral is remembering the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King with a day of speech and reflection in order to spur change. The Cathedral is giving citizens an opportunity to listen and read a selection of his speeches aloud. “Let Freedom Ring” began four years ago after the very reverend Mike Kinman, dean of Christ Church Cathedral, realized there was no element of reflection evident in the service projects that others were completing.
“What it is, is it gives a foundation of reflection so that we can consider what that work is,” he said. “He never was an activist for activism’s sake. Everything was thoughtful, prayerful, reasoned, considered.” The day is not a discouragement to performing public service, however. “What we are hoping that people will do is embody that in their lives…do your five hours at the soup kitchen, then come here and speak these words, and consider what it was that you were doing, and consider what more it is that you are called to do,” says Kinman.
The program will be held from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. in the nave of the Cathedral. Participants can choose to read aloud, volunteer to man a 30 minute shift, or simply listen at any time during the day.