Swarthmore Commemorates Dr. King

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Early yesterday morning Swarthmore students, faculty, and staff gathered before classes to remember the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. Over lunch associate dean for multicultural affairs Darryl Smaw gave a brief lecture and performance of freedom songs. A PBS documentary on Dr. King was shown in the afternoon, and further events are planned for today and tomorrow. Given Swarthmore’s occasionally contentious practice of beginning the spring semester on Martin Luther King Day, many students and faculty were present at the events.

The holiday breakfast was held in the Scheuer Room with speeches given by Darryl Smaw and Joyce Tompkins, religious adviser to the campus Protestant community. In his opening speech, Smaw set the tone by quoting King’s wishes regarding how he should be remembered: Rather than mentioning awards such as the Nobel Peace Prize, we should remember specific acts which stand as testimonials for what Dr. King believed. Tompkins spoke with conviction of King’s legacy, bringing renewed awareness to the famous words, “I have a dream.” The translation of that dream from an individual one into a vision shared by a wider community is what allows it to manifest as reality. Said Tompkins, every one of us has the responsibility to continue striving for a world of equality. In closing, Smaw thanked those who came and underscored the message of MLK Day as a time for recommitting ourselves to social action.

During lunch in Bond Hall, Smaw briefly contextualized the role of “Songs of the Civil Rights Movement”. Those who wrote and sang them, “were both historians and history makers.” Freedom songs galvanized the movement and today stand as monuments to those who fought for change. Taking a seat at the piano, Smaw wove one song into another with ease as his smooth voice told of the eternally relevant fight for equality. Those gathered rose to sing This Little Light of Mine and We Shall Overcome.

Today at 4:30 a student panel will reflect on the memory of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, in the Scheuer Room. Wednesday at 7:00 in LPAC George Lakey, Lang Visiting Professor of Issues for Social Change, will deliver a keynote address for Swarthmore’s celebrations of King’s life and legacy.


  1. Starting the spring semester (incidentally, the time of hope) on MLK Day seems particularly appropriate for Swarthmore and what it has always stood for!

  2. Great to read of Swarthmore remembering Dr. King. I had the privilege of working with him in Albany, GA, in 1962 – one of my two arrests and jailings during those tumultuous days of the civil rights movement. If ever interested, I would be happy to share my experiences at Swarthmore as a Freedom Rider (1961) and, at Dr. King’s request, leading a ‘prayer pilgrimage’ to Albany (1962) that resulted in he largest incarceration of clergy – Christian and Jewish – in American history.

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