Significance of Mahalia Jackson to Lincoln College remembered at MLK Breakfast

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[January 17, 2017]  LINCOLN - Many community members and leaders celebrated the life of Martin Luther King Jr. together on Monday morning. The Ninth Annual Joyce Kinzie/Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast was held at Lincoln College Davidson-Sheffer gymnasium.

Reverend Glenn Shelton,  a member of the planning committee for the event, gave the invocation thanking God for his grace and mercy, blessing the food, and praying “all would be blessed by what [they] see and hear.”

As he welcomed everyone to the breakfast, Shelton said the occasion was an “opportunity to express joy and happiness because we have another day.” He said, “You’re as welcome as the sunshine is to the earth after a gloomy, cold night.” Shelton thanked the committee who worked so hard to put the event together.

Tom McLaughlin, Lincoln Heritage Museum Director and Master of Ceremonies introduced Lincoln College President, Dr. David Gerlach, who provided the keynote address. McLaughlin said since Gerlach has come to Lincoln College, several new four-year programs have been added and student involvement and enrollment has increased. Gerlach has also improved the college’s relationship with the surrounding community.

Dr. Gerlach said he was honored to speak. Gerlach said, “the title of my remarks is ‘The intersection of Dr. Martin Luther King and Mahalia Jackson at Lincoln College, honoring their legacies.” Gerlach said Martin Luther King was only 39 when he was assassinated.

Gerlach said President Lincoln freed 3 million southern black slaves through the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 and later helped pass the thirteenth amendment, which abolished slavery. He said thousands died in the Civil War, which was fought over “flames of withering injustice.” Gerlach said it was only the beginning of the change in this country of the way blacks were treated and perceived.

Gerlach said it took another 100 years for African Americans to gain the “full measure of civil rights” with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the voting rights act of 1965. He said these two historic initiatives were just the midpoint of what Dr. King spoke of in his “I Have a Dream” speech. In the speech, King said, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’"

Gerlach said to understand the impact of King’s work, we must “gain an understanding of the attitudes” of many in this country during those years. King grew up in the shadow of Jim Crow laws, separate but equal, segregation, for whites only, sundown laws, and the KKK. After the civil war, civil rights had advanced very little beyond freedom.

Gerlach said on one trip during high school, King had to stand on a bus so whites could sit. King initially refused, but his teacher reminded him the seats were for whites only. King said it was “the angriest I had ever been in my life.”

Gerlach said King chose to enter ministry because of his “inner urge to serve humanity” and would go on to earn several degrees.

Gerlach said one of King’s first forays into civil rights occurred in 1955 after Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the bus. King organized a bus boycott that lasted over a year. King was arrested, but bussing in Montgomery, Alabama soon became desegregated.

Gerlach said King was threatened, jailed, beaten, stabbed, and hit with bricks, but led his fight for civil rights through non-violent civil disobedience. King once said, “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

Gerlach said King’s 1963 “I have a Dream” speech was one of the most powerful speeches ever. King referenced the Emancipation Proclamation in the speech as he said, “But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free” and “still sadly crippled by manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.” King said, “One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity . . . still languishes in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.” King said he wanted to “dramatize a shameful condition.”

Gerlach said in King’s last few years, King fought against segregation, voter disenfranchisement, discriminatory housing practices, poverty, and lack of opportunity. King spoke against the Vietnam War and said, “a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”

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Gerlach said King’s speech on February 4, 1968, exactly two months before his assassination, referenced the gospel of Matthew. King said he wanted to be remembered for feeding the hungry, visiting those in prison, clothing the naked, and loving and serving humanity. King wanted to leave a committed life behind.

Gerlach said in King’s final speech, “I’ve been to the mountaintop,” King spoke of difficult days ahead and said, “I just want to do God’s will.” King said God “has allowed me to go up to the mountain, and I have looked over and I’ve seen the promised land.” King said, “I may not get there,” but “we as a people will get to the promised land.”

Gerlach said King’s last words ever, were spoken to a musician as he said, make sure you play “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” in the meeting tonight. The song was King’s favorite and he often invited Mahalia Jackson to sing it at civil right’s rallies to inspire the crowds. King was shot April 4, 1968 on a motel balcony and this song was sung at his funeral.

Gerlach said on September 29, 1963, the Lincoln community was treated to a concert by Mahalia Jackson to help raise funds for Lincoln College’s Hart Science Building. Gerlach said the concert was a great pride and honor for the college and for Jackson, who received an honorary doctorate from the school.

Gerlach said just one month prior, Jackson had sung in front of a quarter of a million people before King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.

Gerlach said Jackson contributed funds from the concert to Lincoln College’s Hart Science building fund, even after Jim Crow laws in Lincoln did not allow her to stay in any of Lincoln’s hotels. She was forced to stay at a hotel in Springfield that welcomed black patrons.

Gerlach closed by saying in celebrating Martin Luther King Jr’s. Birthday, let me quote King one more time “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others?’"

The 2016/2017 Martin Luther King Minority Scholarship went to recipient Ty Whitetree. Whitetree is a 2016 graduate of Lincoln Community High School and has been an active participant in Student Government during his freshman year at Lincoln College. He plans to major in Sports Management. Whitetree also coaches a Special Olympics basketball team.

Whitetree thanked Lincoln College, his parents, and Glenn Shelton. Whitetree said he was excited to write an essay about his Native American heritage, which is he proud of, and then to find out he had won the scholarship. He said he likes college better than high school and Lincoln College has shown him a lot of hard work goes into being a successful student. Whitetree is excited about the semester.

Before a collection was taken up for the Scholarship fund, Reverend Shelton spoke of serving through giving and reminded everyone of the contributions of Joyce Kinzie. Shelton said, “Give the best that you can.”

While the collection was taken, the Lincoln College Chorale and Second Baptist Youth Choir asked everyone to join in as they sang "We Shall Overcome.”

During the morning’s program, the LC Chorale also sang “Up to the Mountain” and the Second Baptist Youth Choir sang “Bless the Lord, Oh my Soul.”

Reverend Shelton closed the morning's events with a benediction thanking God for blessing the breakfast honoring Joyce Kinzie and Martin Luther King and for Dr. Gerlach reminding us of Mahalia Jackson. Shelton prayed for God’s support as we continue to serve.

The scholarship committee consisted of Reverend Glenn Shelton, Les Plotner, Debbie Ackerman, Tom McLaughlin, and Jen McMillin.

[Angela Reiners]

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