Dr. Hart discussed racism in the past and present. 
Photo provided by MU

Race, Religion VIA Remembers Martin Luther King Jr.

Miriam Erbaugh

On Feb. 1, Manchester University commemorated the 55th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech at the University with a Remembrance and Rededication Ceremony.

The ceremony, which was also the first VIA (Values, Ideas, and the Arts) of the spring semester, was given by Dr. Drew Hart. activist, community organizer, podcast host, church anti-racism leader and assistant professor of Theology at Messiah University.

King visited Manchester College on February 1, 1968, and gave a speech entitled “The Future of Integration.” Later that year King was assassinated, and Manchester College became the last college campus he ever spoke at.

In the years following 1968, the now University has chosen to honor King’s visit and his legacy by bringing in speakers to lead Remembrance and Rededication Ceremonies every year on Feb. 1.

King was also connected to Manchester College through alumna Jean Childs Young, with whom he worked alongside in the civil rights movement.

Hart’s presentation was entitled “Dr. King’s Blue Jeans: White Supremacy, Christianity, and God’s Delivering Presence.” He spoke from the same lectern King addressed students from.

In his speech, Hart walked attendees through current issues of anti-racism and gave a short historical summary of racism within the Christian church, through the lenses of “plunder and sacrifice.”

Hart highlighted Dr. King’s witness, telling a story of King’s work in Birmingham in 1963. King met with other leaders of the civil rights movement in Birmingham when the movement there had run out of bail funds and was losing momentum because of proximity to Christian holidays. King left the room in which they were meeting and went into his adjacent bedroom. When he came out, he had put his blue jeans on. With one outfit change, King signaled that it was time to get work and return to protesting in Birmingham.

“Everyone knew at that moment that when he put on those blue jeans it meant that it was time to get to work, it’s time to seek justice, it’s time to roll up our sleeves, and actually work for the actual flourishing of others, especially those who are most vulnerable in our communities,” Hart said.

At the end of the VIA, Hart called those in attendance to the same work against injustice as King had chosen. “Honoring Dr. King’s legacy is not just talking about Dr. King and celebrating Dr. King, lifting up his name,” Hart said. “If we’re going to embrace the challenge that Dr. King had for us, then we must participate in the work of justice. We must get a vision of beloved community. We must be committed to let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like ever flowing streams. We’re invited to put on our blue jeans.”

During a question-and-answer time, Hart specifically urged people to first step back and observe grassroots movements already in their communities. “The first thing you want to do is get involved in places where you can follow,” he said. “Allowing those who are most disproportionately impacted by the harms, if there are groups where those folks are leading then that’s a good place to start.”

Though student representation was low, students in attendance had a positive reaction to the presentation. “I loved Dr. Hart’s description of how watered-down and tame the memory of the Civil Rights Movement has become,” Sam Hupp, a first year, said. “People need to be reminded that the struggle is still ongoing and has never been a popular one.”

Members of the North Manchester community also appreciated the VIA. “Dr. Drew, I was struck by your image of going up the down stairway,” Cliff Kindy said in a question and answer with Hart after he spoke. “I’m 72, but this summer, at Church of the Brethren conference I tried [going up the down escalator] . . . I lunged, but I made it. I came with my blue jeans on.”

Nan Erbaugh, community member and this reporter’s grandmother, encouraged action. “If we are ever to reach the beloved community, it will take all of us working intentionally to nonviolently challenge white supremacy and disrupt injustice,” she said. “Being neutral is simply not an option.”

The event was attended by a small number of students and faculty, as well as pastors from several local churches and a busload of residents from Timbercrest Senior Living Community. It was livestreamed and recorded on Manchester University’s Facebook Page. Jada Burtin, a local news reporter, covered the event for Wane 15.