One year to the day before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech in New York City calling for compassion, unity and a change in values.
Fifty years later, a few dozen Capital Region residents gathered to read from the speech and note its relevance to the world in 2017.
The event, titled “A Time to Break the Silence,” was inspired by the speech King gave. Community leaders noted that the speech and its call for unity and action are just as appropriate today as they were in 1967.
“It’s significant today because people need to remember to get involved with what’s going on in our community,” said Angelicia Morris, executive director of the Schenectady County Human Rights Commission. “People also need to stand up and speak out for what’s right.”
The Human Rights Commission and Schenectady Clergy Against Hate were the main sponsors of Thursday’s event, which drew about 40 community members to the Unitarian Universalist Society of Schenectady on Wendell Avenue.
The speech reading was part of a broader effort by the county’s Martin Luther King Jr. Coalition, which is in its 30th year, to raise awareness of King’s work and spark community conversation.
A series of six faith leaders and community members from various religious groups around Schenectady got up one-by-one to read excerpts of King’s speech, which began as a criticism of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, but eventually forayed into the need to focus on people’s lives more than material goods.
“When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered,” King wrote.
Morris said the principles and groups King fought for are in many ways being undermined by the Trump administration. “We’re seeing today that his dream looks like a nightmare,” she told the crowd.
A few attendees said the event felt timely given King’s message of equality, and considering the speech was delivered almost 50 years ago to the day, on April 4, 1967.
The event provided a sort of warm up for the Human Rights Commission’s planned street dedication ceremony next week. An 11-block stretch of Albany Street will be ceremonially renamed “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way” during an event Tuesday morning at 839 Albany St.
Morris said most other major cities in the state — including Syracuse, Binghamton, Utica and Albany — have streets named after King. After that, it became one of the coalition’s goals to permanently honor King with his own street in Schenectady.
She emphasized the importance of having the entire stretch of Albany Street that sits in the Hamilton Hill neighborhood bear King’s name, because it’s home to several social service organizations, something King advocated for.