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By Paige Sutherland/MEDILL

The Rockefeller Memorial Chapel at the University of Chicago is where Martin Luther King Jr. spoke in both 1956 and 1959.

Standing where King stood, recommitting to his message

by Paige Sutherland
Jan 16, 2013

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"If you want to be important, wonderful. If you want to be recognized, wonderful. If you want to be great, wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be a servant. That’s the new definition of greatness. By giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.”

-- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Program for celebration



Derek Douglas, Vice President for Civic Engagement


Robert J. Zimmer, President

READING of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Rachel Watson, Divinity School


Laboratory School Jazz Ensemble


Adam Green, Associate Professor of American History; Master, Social

Sciences Collegiate Division; Deputy Dean, Social Sciences;

Associate Dean in the College


Judy Richardson, film producer and civil rights activist

Charles Payne, Frank P. Hixon Distinguished Service Professor, School of

Social Service Administration; Affiliate of the Urban Education Institute


Soul Umoja, University of Chicago Gospel Choir and Red Clay Dance Company


Elizabeth Davenport, Dean of Rockefeller Chapel


Thomas Weisflog, University Organist

The University of Chicago encourages students to make a difference in their communities. In commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a documentarian will stand where King once stood to drive that message home.

“Some people take the past for granted and don’t digest the meaning. It’s important for all of us to know that everyone can make a difference,” said Eden Sabala, assistant to the dean for arts and events management, at the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel.

Civil Rights activist and documentarian Judy Richardson will engage in a conversation with Professor Charles Payne at 6 p.m. Thursday in remembrance of the Civil Rights Movement and its progress today.

Richardson is best known for her work in the 14-hour PBS documentary “Eyes on the Prize.” The documentary highlights the African-American Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. from the murder of 15-year-old Chicago resident Emmett Till in 1955 to the election of Chicago’s first black mayor, Harold Washington, in 1983.

Her most recent documentary is “Scarred Justice,” which focuses on a massacre of students in 1968 in Orangeburg, S.C.

An estimated 650 to 700 people are expected to attend the ceremony, Sabala said. Every year the audience is drawn from beyond the university, and Sabala said the chapel has become a hub for the South Side.

The chapel, she said, does not invite just anyone to speak. In 2002 Barack Obama was the keynote speaker.

“There is a presence about the speakers that resonates with the audience and inspires them to make a difference,” Sabala said.

Between 1956 and 1966, King spoke at the university’s campus three times, twice at the chapel.

“The place where we sit is a place where a person of extraordinary insight and leadership has stood,” said Dr. William McDade, deputy provost for research and minority issues at the university.

King was an iconic figure who galvanized the nation through several campaigns, chief of which resulted in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Others included the integration of Little Rock High School and the University of Mississippi. King, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, would have turned 84 on Tuesday. The holiday celebrating his birth is Monday.

The university demonstrates King’s message by having the first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D., the first minority scholarship program at a business school and the first gay liberation organization in Chicago.

To truly honor King, McDade said, one must not remember his message but rather live it: “We must strive to keep his image and ideals alive because in the end that is what will make us a better society.”