Martin Luther King Day Events Highlight Importance of Civil Rights in America

Events on campus on Jan. 21 and 24 celebrate the life of Dr. King and the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (Wikimedia Commons Photo)

Martin Luther King, Jr. (Wikimedia Commons Photo)

Martin Luther King Jr. (Wikimedia Commons Photo)
Martin Luther King Jr. (Wikimedia Commons Photo)

The University of Connecticut will celebrate the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation with two major events during the week of Jan. 21.

On Monday, Jan. 21 at 4 p.m. in the Student Union Theatre a program titled Living in America: The Intersection of Opportunity and Responsibility will feature UConn Trustee Dr. Lenworth Jacobs as keynote speaker. Jacobs will be joined on the program by the UConn Voices of Freedom Gospel Choir and the Martin Luther King Elementary School Choir of Hartford, Conn.

On Thursday, Jan. 24 at 4 p.m., in the Konover Auditorium at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, in observance of the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Debby Applegate will speak on “Henry Ward Beecher, The Emancipation Proclamation, and the Civil War.”

Both events are free and open to the public.

King, who was born on Jan. 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia, had a monumental effect on race relations in the United States. Through his work as a Baptist minister and as leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, he played a leading role in ending legal segregation in this country; in 1964, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in honor of his efforts. King’s I Have a Dream speech, delivered at the March on Washington on Aug. 28, 1963, remains a seminal moment in the civil rights movement. He was assassinated on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tenn., and was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004.

The Emancipation Proclamation, was an order issued by President Abraham Lincoln on Jan. 1, 1863, that proclaimed all those enslaved in Confederate territory to be forever free, and ordered the Army (and all segments of the Executive branch) to treat as free all those individuals who were enslaved in the states that were in rebellion during the Civil War.

Intersection of Opportunity and Responsibility

The program on Monday is dedicated to the memory of Dr. King. The keynote speaker, Dr. Lenworth Jacobs, is chief academic officer and vice president of academic affairs at Hartford Hospital and director of the Trauma Institute at Hartford Hospital/Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.

He is also professor of surgery and chair of the Department of Traumatology and Emergency Medicine at the UConn Health Center in Farmington.

Jacobs was instrumental in establishing LIFE STAR, Connecticut’s only critical care helicopter service, and has been the recipient of numerous state and national awards and honors in the field of trauma medicine. In May 2010, he was presented with the John K. Springer Humanitarian Award from Hartford Hospital, “for exemplifying the extraordinary qualities of compassion, civility, vision, and integrity.”

In his presentation, Jacobs will discuss the influence of his early experiences on his career choices. A 1970 graduate of the University of the West Indies Medical School, he received his surgical training at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston and at University and Boston City Hospitals during the time when that city was experiencing a series of protests and riots in response to the passing of the 1965 Racial Imbalance Act, which ordered public schools in the state to desegregate.

Being in his adopted homeland during what is known as the Boston Busing Crisis (1974-1988), Jacobs experienced both the highs and the lows of being a young black man in America during that time.

When talking about the influence of Dr. King on his life, he says, “I obtained my education in the 60s and did my surgical residency [in Boston] in the 70s. Martin Luther King was an inspiration to me, and was also a driving force to help me pursue excellence in my career.”

UConn President Susan Herbst and Vice President for Student Affairs John Saddlemire will deliver remarks at the program, which will be moderated by Willena Kimpson Price, director of the African American Cultural Center. Several student speakers will also present tributes to Dr. King during the program.

President’s Distinguished Martin Luther King Jr. Day Speaker

President Herbst will be joined by Draper Professor of Early American History Robert Gross and associate professor of history and director of the Institute of African American Studies, Jelani Cobb, in delivering remarks at the Dodd Center on Thursday.

Keynote speaker at that event will be Debby Applegate whose book The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Biography and was named one of the best books of 2006 by the New York Times Book Review, NPR’s Fresh Air, the Washington Post, and American Heritage Magazine, among others.

Applegate became interested in Beecher, a Connecticut native who was a prominent Congregational clergyman, social reformer, and abolitionist in the 1800s, while she was an undergraduate at Amherst College, and she continued her research as a Sterling Fellow at Yale, where she earned her Ph.D. in American studies.

She has taught at Yale and Wesleyan universities and currently teaches a master class on writing biography and memoir at the Writing Center at Marymount Manhattan College in New York.

The Emancipation Proclamation was one of President Abraham Lincoln’s defining moments. It gave freedom to approximately 3 million black slaves and turned the Civil War from a fight to preserve the Union into a fight against slavery.

According to numerous historical records, there were a number of large celebrations following the signing of the Proclamation in which abolitionists, including Beecher, took part. At Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, he preached a commemorative sermon to an overflow audience in which he said, “The Proclamation may not free a single slave, but it gives liberty a moral recognition.”

Applegate will discuss this ‘moral recognition’ during her presentation “Henry Ward Beecher, The Emancipation Proclamation, and the Civil War.”There will be a reception at the Dodd Center immediately following the program.