Members of the Harvard Chaplains and other religious leaders hosted a vigil in Memorial Church on Tuesday evening to mark the end of Black History Month and honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King.
The vigil celebrated the Kings’ contributions to civil rights and economic justice movements within the United States. Speakers highlighted numerous pivotal moments in the Kings’ lives, discussing the March on Washington, the Poor People’s Campaign, and King’s famous letter from Birmingham Jail.
Tuesday’s ceremony concluded a month of programming, titled “Beloved Community,” organized by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ Office for Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging to celebrate the Kings’ legacy during Black History Month.
Speakers for the event included Assistant Minister for Memorial Church Calvon T. Jones, Harvard Muslim Chaplain Khalil Abdur-Rashid, Harvard Divinity School Associate Dean for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging Melissa Wood Bartholomew, and Harvard Divinity School Dean of Ministry Studies Theodore N. Hickman-Maynard.
The Kuumba Singers of Harvard College, the oldest existing Black organization at the College, provided musical interludes between readings, including “Oh Freedom!” and “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ’Round.”
Abdur-Rashid discussed King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and said the most famous passage was “just one section” of King’s address. Often omitted are King’s criticisms of the U.S. government’s “failure to act in protecting human and civil rights for African Americans” and his demand that America live up to “its promises of emancipation and democracy,” Abdur-Rashid said.
“Like the peaceful grabbing of the nation’s capital, it was the largest assembly for redress of grievances that the Capitol had ever seen,” he said.
Speakers lauded King’s Poor People’s Campaign as a continuation of his lifelong work towards economic justice. The campaign called for a multiracial coalition of poor people to demand economic and human rights, and culminated in roughly 3,000 people camping out on the National Mall in tents made of plywood.
Following King’s assassination, his wife, Coretta King, played a vital role in carrying on the fight for civil rights and economic justice. Despite her significant contributions to the movement, speakers at the vigil said, her work has often been overlooked.
“There would not have been a Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. without Coretta Scott King,” Bartholomew said.
Closing the event, Aimee R. Howard ’25 and Bernadette R. Looney ’23 shared readings reflecting on the systemic inequality still present in the U.S.
—Staff writer Tyler J. H. Ory can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.