YDS goes to Memphis to explore ‘Living the MLK Legacy Today’

Before a racially and religiously mixed crowd of 550 people in a Memphis synagogue, Yale Divinity School hosted a panel discussion March 12 on living the Martin Luther King legacy today.

“All of us who are old enough remember exactly where we were when we heard the news that the Rev. Martin Luther King had been assassinated,” YDS Dean Greg Sterling said in his opening remarks at Temple Israel. “The murder occurred in Memphis. But that shot was heard throughout America and the world. It was an attempt to silence a prophetic voice that had awakened this country to the evil of racism.

“A half century has passed. Progress has been made in some areas. But not in others.”

One of the four panel members was Eboni Marshall Turman, Assistant Professor of Theology and African American Religion at YDS.  Turman was joined on the panel by Traci Blackmon, Executive Minister of Justice & Witness Ministries, United Church of Christ; Gerald Durley, Senior Pastor Emeritus, Providence Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta; and Katie Bauman, Associate Rabbi of Temple Israel. The moderator was Jonathan Judaken, Spence L. Wilson Chair in Humanities at Rhodes College in Memphis.

The YDS panel and the worship preceding it concluded a series of Moral Monday events coordinated by the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, where King was assassinated on April 4, 1968.

The moderator, who grew up in apartheid South Africa, drew from his native country’s history for one of his questions. Does America, Judaken asked, need a truth-and-reconciliation of its own to account for a history of slavery and other forms of racial injustice and violence?

Turman drew applause when she responded: “Black people, brown people, and minoritized communities have been telling the truth for a long time. It’s now time for those who have power to do their own work.”

“Martin King committed himself to the idea of moral suasion. Policies have changed, such that there is a black womanist theological ethicist on the tenure track at Yale,” Turman continued, referring to her faculty appointment two years ago. “And yet there are still places that I can’t go because hearts have not changed. We need white people to be converted. It is going to take conversion to hear the truth that has been told for centuries.”

The panel followed a worship service centered around a rousing sermon by Blackmon, in which she spoke of her encounter with the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., last August. Watch the worship service video.

“It’s entirely fitting that a Christian divinity school partner with a Jewish schul in Memphis to remember the legacy of Martin Luther King,” Sterling said. “As people of faith … we must unite and march in unison with our moral consciences to oppose the immorality of racism.”

March 15, 2018