Reflecting on Years Past: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Tribute
The first annual tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
was held at ASH in 1986, the year Martin Luther King Day became a national holiday in the United States. Since that time, the ASH community has paid tribute to Dr. King in this annual commemoration involving students, staff and parents. Teachers have encouraged students to participate by reading passages or personal reflections, by performing in musical performances or even just being part of the audience at these events. Given the current times, we honor this important day through our own tributes and memories from ASH staff alum Roberta Enschede, who shares with us her reflections of the Martin Luther King Tribute, which she has helped organize over the years with support from the ASH community.
"This year, there will be no Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Tribute and Dinner. It will be the first time since January, 1986 – the year Martin Luther King Day became a national holiday. Even though we will not able to “break bread together”, let's think about Dr. King’s message and what it challenges us to do.
Over the years, many special people have spoken at the MLK Tribute in The Hague. Their messages are etched in our memories, in my memory, and now I share them with you. There was Gloria Ray Kalmark, one of the Little Rock Nine. She had a successful career as an engineer, but the memories of Little Rock were always with her. I remember one day in particular: We were at a gathering at the residence of the American ambassador and several people were standing around the big grand piano. Gloria asked the pianist to play “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” She listened and started to cry. “I never thought I’d stand in a place like this and hear that song.” That song, of course, was what people had called the Negro National Anthem. ‘Lift every voice and sing till heaven and earth shall ring, ring with the harmony of liberty'.
Every year at our tribute, Lois Mothershed Pot would speak. Her sister Thelma was also one of the Little Rock Nine and Lois was the first black student in her university. She once talked about her father, a veteran of World War II who was an officer in the segregated American Army. He was willing to give his life for the kind of freedom neither he or his family could have. He returned from the war a liberator, a hero - but back in Little Rock, he was a black man who had to live with the indignities of segregation. He allowed his daughter to be one of the Little Rock Nine; she had to be escorted to Little Rock High School by armed soldiers. Like Gloria and the other seven students, she was ridiculed, spat upon and threatened. There was no place for black kids like Thelma and Gloria in white Central High.
When we commemorated the 25th year of the tribute to Dr. King, we invited a very special guest from Chicago – Professor Timuel Black. He was one of the organizers of the 1963 March on Washington, is a decorated WWII veteran who landed on Normandy Beach and was at the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp. He spoke about how profoundly he was affected by the discrimination he experienced in the army and the human devastation he witnessed at Buchenwald. He resolved to dedicate his life and work to peace and justice. Timuel celebrated his 102nd birthday on December 7th and he’s still making speeches, writing books and above all, encouraging and empowering young people to speak out.
Another speaker at the tribute was Paul Rusesabagina, the hero of Hotel Rwanda. While working as the manager of a hotel in Kigali, he hid and protected 1,268 refugees during the Rwandan genocide. Unfortunately, he is now a political prisoner in Rwanda: his story still resonates the injustices happening today in his country.
At the very first tribute to Dr. King we held, and every year after until his passing, Henry Blackmon, the minister of music at the American Protestant Church, came and sang. His glorious voice and humble nature were an inspiration. “Oh Freedom, oh freedom over me” he’d sing and “Keep Your Hand on the Plow, move on.” Henry too served in the segregated US army in the Battle of the Bulge and over Europe. His answer to segregation was a deep love of his fellow man that exuded from his soaring voice.
Each year, the Reverend Harcourt Klinefelter speaks. Harcourt knew Dr. King; he worked for him for three years until Dr. King's death. He can tell stories about him that you cannot find in any books. He laughs and talks about how one night Mrs. King asked him to stay and have dinner. He’d been at the house fixing some electronics and it had gotten late. When Dr. King came home and they sat down at the table, he said “I don’t feel worthy to sit here with you.” Dr. King answered him, ‘Harcourt, now - do I have to give you a sermon about how all men are created equal?”
Lastly, when I think about our MLK Tribute in The Hague, I think of the children, as each year we ask children and young people to speak and share their thoughts and wisdom. These children come from all walks of life, across all ages, their stories bridge together the differences that may superficially divide us.
I learned that human rights aren’t about feeling sympathy. They’re about reaching our hands out to people who other people have turned their backs on.
- Emily, 17 years old (Norwegian-American)
Martin Luther King didn’t have a dream, he woke us up from a nightmare.
- Damian, 15 years old (American)
Like Dr. King, I firmly believe that no matter how many ages must pass, peace and freedom will ultimately prevail. There will be fraternity between nations.
- Alexander, 17 years old (Swedish)
When I was asked to speak, I thought what could I say? I’m white and blue-eyed. I’ve never experienced racial hate. Then I realized that’s precisely why I should speak. Hate is not an issue for one race. It is an issue for the human race.
- Ben, 17 years old (American)
You can’t blame other people for what they don’t know and understand, however you can blame yourself for not trying to make them understand.
- Warren, 17 years old (Dutch-American)
We’re all the same. We just look different. Some people have white faces. Some people have dark faces and some people have black faces, but that’s not how I choose a friend. I choose a friend who’s not mean to other kids!
- Benjamin, 6 years old (American)
The hearts of these young people, and young people like them all over the world, make us believe and know there is hope for a better, more tolerant tomorrow. And so, we will remember Dr. King this year even though we cannot “break bread together.” We will remember too Congressman John Lewis, who marched by his side and suffered unthinkable physical consequences as he kept marching, speaking out; “making good trouble” until the last days of his life. He died on July 17th, 2020. They called him “the Conscience of the Congress.” Indeed he, like Dr. King, was and will always be the conscience of the nation.
May Martin Luther King Day and every day be a day to be vigilant, a day to speak out and “make good trouble” until “Justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Next year, we will be together on the last Sunday evening in January. We will join hands and sing “We Shall Overcome” and listen to the words of Dr. King’s Dream. I look forward to that day."
- Roberta Enschede, ASH Staff Alum and member of OAR (Overseas Americans Remember)