Martin Luther King, Jr. Remembered

February 01, 2011
John B. D. Potter '11

Grimmette as KingThis year marks the 25th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  This federal holiday honors the leader of the Civil Rights Movement who was assassinated on April 4, 1968. Many schools commemorate this day with programs which teach students about Dr. King's struggle against racial discrimination. On the evening of Monday, January 17th, Hampden-Sydney hosted such a program.  Sponsored by the Office of Intercultural Affairs and Minority Student Union, this event featured Bill Grimmette, a professional storyteller.

Over the course of four decades, Grimmette has developed his reputation as a talented actor, writer, and director.  In recent years he has applied his talents to educating via storytelling and motivational speaking.  By utilizing these media Grimmette has created a critically-acclaimed series of living-history "characterizations" of historical personalities.  These characterizations, which include Benjamin Banneker, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., provide audiences with a unique perspective on the history of civil rights in America.

In the program at Hampden-Sydney, Grimmette portrayed Dr. King.  Speaking in first-person, Grimmette delivered a performance which took the audience through the events and experiences that defined Dr. King's life. By chronicling Dr. King's life, Grimmette showed that the civil rights icon was not only shaped by events during his lifetime, but also shaped the Civil Rights Movement.

Dr. King grew up under Jim Crow, "apartheid in America," which institutionalized segregation in the South.  Despite overt discrimination, his parents encouraged him to believe in himself as well as the power of the written and spoken word. Following in his father's footsteps, Dr. King decided to become a minister.  He attended Morehouse College, where Dr. Mays, who King called his "spiritual mentor" and "intellectual father," molded him into a preacher.  A few years later, the now Rev. Dr. King married Coretta Scott and became pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.

As a pastor, Dr. King drew inspiration from Jesus Christ, who offered a message of love, not hate and anger.  King saw this very message in Gandhi's nonviolent resistance to British rule in South Africa and India.  Believing that "hate and anger only beget hate and anger," Dr. King advocated nonviolent protests, such as the 381-day Montgomery Bus Boycott. Such actions ultimately helped African Americans win the civil rights which had so long been denied to them.

By overcoming seemingly insurmountable adversity to achieve his dream, Dr. King inspired and continues to inspire millions of people, in America and across the globe, to strive toward their own dreams.  Because Dr. King continues "teaching a lesson that we can live," it is fitting that we recognize and celebrate his extraordinary life and legacy.