By Alicia Cook
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968. He was there to rally support for striking sanitation workers, and while on the balcony of his room at the Lorraine Motel, which is now the site of the National Civil Rights Museum, he was shot by James Earl Ray.
Bloomfield College commemorated the life and labor of MLK on campus on Wednesday, April 4, 2018, on the 50th anniversary of his assassination.
“I hope we act in ways that are helpful. I hope we act in ways that better the world and enrich rather than tear down,” said Dr. Tresmaine Grimes, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty, in her opening remarks. “Today, we are dealing with many of the same challenges as Dr. King did in his time, but I do not believe his death was in vain.”
“We all remember where we were when Dr. King was killed,” remarked Trustee and 150th Sesquicentennial Committee co-chair, Rosemary Iversen. “I had a very young baby at the time and when I saw what had happened on the news, I remember becoming worried for the future of our children.”
A panel comprised of Rev. Dr. Glenmore Bembry, Jr., adjunct professor of Religious Studies at the College; Bloomfield College senior Kiamsha Bynes; and Dr. Kristopher Burrell, Assistant Professor of History at Hostos Community College-CUNY, discussed Rev. Dr. King and his legacy.
Rev. Dr. Bembry, Jr., Pastor of the Trinity Baptist Church, discussed Rev. Dr. King’s impact on his own life, Coretta Scott King’s advocacy and role in the Civil Rights Movement, and touched upon Rev. Dr. King’s battle with depression.
Bynes, a McNair Scholar, presented her research on Rev. Dr. King, focusing on New Jersey’s connection to him and listing the various places in New Jersey and beyond Rev. Dr. King spoke.
Dr. Burrell, who researches and writes about the African American civil rights movement and regularly delivers public lectures on Martin Luther King, broke down Rev. Dr. King’s now infamous Beyond Vietnam speech and how the public reacted, mostly negatively, to his words. After Rev. Dr. King delivered the speech, approximately 168 major newspapers the next day denounced him and then-President Lyndon Johnson disinvited him to the White House.
“Bloomfield College provided me with a quintessential education. Had it not been for this college bringing students like me up from poverty, I do not know where I would be,” said alumnus Rev. Maurice Bowden ’82, who travelled to campus from Baltimore to attend the event. “I was a child when Dr. King was assassinated. He became my invisible mentor. Bloomfield College practices a mantra very similar to what MLK preached.”
Ruby Sales, public theologian, historian, activist, social critic, and educator, joined the event as keynote speaker.
Sales attended local segregated schools and was also educated in the community during the 1960s era of the Civil Rights Movement. Sales participated, at the age of 17, in the Selma to Montgomery marches of 1965. That year, she was arrested in August with some fellow activists in Fort Deposit in Lowndes County, where they were picketing a whites-only store. They were taken to the county seat of Hayneville and jailed for six days.
After being released, she and a few others were threatened by a shotgun-wielding construction worker, Tom Coleman, who was a special county deputy, at a store. One of Sales' fellow marchers, Jonathan Daniels, a white Episcopal seminarian, was shot for standing behind her in line. Daniels was a 1961 graduate of the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) and valedictorian of his class, and was studying at the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Mass.
Sales was so traumatized by Daniels' murder that she lost the ability to speak for seven months. Sales resolved to testify at Tom Coleman's trial. He was acquitted by a jury of 12 white men. The result of the trial led to legal challenges and a reform of the jury selection procedures, which had long excluded African Americans.
Sales earned her B.A. in American History in 1971 from Manhattanville College and then enrolled in graduate school at Princeton University. Between 1971 and 1976, she was a Danforth Scholar, and advanced to Ph.D. candidacy in American History before leaving the University. In 1994, Sales entered the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts and, in 1998, received her master’s of divinity. She currently lives in Washington, D.C.
She has taught adult education in Boston; worked as director of the Citizens’ Complaint Center in Washington, D.C.; taught courses on the civil rights movement and African American women’s history in Maryland; and served as director of Black Women’s Voices and Images and as director of Women of All Colors. In 2000 she founded SpiritHouse, a nonprofit focused on community organizing and spiritually based community building.
In addition to the panel and keynote address, the four-hour long event included a luncheon, performances by the Bloomfield College Gospel Choir and the College’s Oral Interpretation of Literature students, an artwork and essay contest announcement, and a closing performance by Professor Emeritus Cheryl Evans.
Special thanks to the Dr. Martin and Toni McKerrow Leadership Series for sponsoring the luncheon.