The three-day weekend in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday was filled with a variety of events in New Haven — from a campus candlelight vigil to a family festival at the Peabody Museum — designed to remind the community of King’s contributions to civil rights and his still relevant legacy.
On Saturday night, the Yale Coalition for Peace coordinated a candlelight vigil on Cross Campus to commemorate King’s anti-war stance. About 15 community members braved the freezing temperatures at the vigil, which featured recitations of many of King’s most famous speeches that promote the values of nonviolence.
“It’s definitely better to have events [over the weekend] than to have people go snowboarding for the weekend,” said Sofia Fenner ’07, one of the vigil’s organizers.
The vigil emphasized the connection between King’s ideas and today’s global society. In light of the current political situation, the organizers of the vigil believe that King’s message has a renewed significance.
“Our goal is to remind people of the anti-war activism part of King’s legacy,” another vigil organizer, Jared Malsin ’07, said. “I sort of wish King was still alive and still speaking out against violence and racism.”
The ongoing conflict in Iraq was on attendees’ minds at the vigil.
“What is going on in our country now is a frightening replay of what happened in the 1960s,” said Zach Morowitz, a New Haven resident who brought his young son to the vigil. “Martin Luther King Day is still viewed as a ‘minority’ holiday, as sad as it is.”
While the organizers of the vigil chose to highlight the anti-war facet of King’s legacy, a two-day family festival at the Peabody Museum over the weekend focused on King’s contributions to environmental and social justice.
The ninth annual festival kicked off on Sunday and continued through Monday with a plethora of events, including live music, dance performances, exhibits, storytellers and lectures, including the centerpiece of the event, a one-man performance given by Jim Lucas, a famous King impersonator.
The festival, which is the largest event facilitated by the Peabody Museum each year, aimed to educate the community about King’s environmental beliefs.
“A lot of people know about King’s work on social justice, but not as many think about the environmental side,” David Heiser, the museum’s events coordinator, said. “It fits in nicely with the point of the Peabody: to teach people about natural resources.”
The event, the product of year-round planning, attracted roughly 3,000 to 4,000 people over the two-day period, Heiser said.
“Enough people are aware of the holiday, but not enough are aware of the actual importance of the holiday,” said Susan Goldsmith, a Massachusetts resident who attended the Peabody celebration with her son.
Nevertheless, the importance of celebrating the meaning behind the holiday is gaining recognition, Heiser said.
“I have seen a lot more advertising and fliers than in past years,” he said. “There is definitely a sense that it is a day on, not a day off.”
In a campus-wide e-mail sent Friday morning, Yale President Richard Levin addressed the “ways in which our University is working to realize equal opportunity for all.” He said the increasing diversity on the Yale campus, as well as progress being made in financial aid and diversity among faculty, shows the University is committed to King’s principles of civil rights.
But one student who attended the candlelight vigil expressed frustration with Levin’s e-mail.
“I think President Levin’s e-mail was distressing in that he sent out an e-mail rather than making any concrete changes,” Phoebe Rounds ’07, an Undergraduate Organizing Committee member, said.
Levin gave a sermon in honor of King at Congregation Mishkan Israel in Hamden on Friday night. Levin spoke about the progress Yale has made in creating a campus of equality and diversity since he became president.
“Dr. King understood the importance of study and reflection; educational opportunity for black children was among his primary goals,” Levin said, according to his prepared remarks. “But he also understood that we are called upon to do more. In the face of injustice, we are called upon to act.”