The legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. -- and his enduring vision of equality and non-violence -- were celebrated at an interfaith Westport service Sunday on the eve of the national holiday paying tribute to the civil-rights
Presented by the Interfaith Council and Clergy of Westport and Weston, the eighth annual event combined song and stories that underscored how King and his message are as vital today as 45 years ago. It took place in the United Methodist Church.
Doug Taylor, a local actor and writer, shared a monologue about his experience attending the "I Have a Dream" rally led by King in 1963 in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
"I never saw so many people in a hot, sunny place," he said. "Thousands crammed in front of the Lincoln Memorial and not a harsh word spoken -- black skin crammed against white. And not a harsh word was spoken."
"And then the man's words washed over us," he said. " `I have a dream.' ... They were awesome."
Peggy Jorgensen, a teacher and co-producer of the event, shared a detailed account of how several women played key roles in the Montgomery, Al., bus boycott before King came to the area to lead the fight for civil rights -- even before Rosa Parks became a famous figure for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus.
"I am just as good as any other white person on this bus," Jorgensen recounted the incident, months before Parks' noted refusal, when a 15-year-old girl named Claudette Colvin was dragged from her seat and beaten by two police officers after refusing to give up her seat.
"Everyone loved Rosa Parks," she said, which is how her refusal to give up her seat became a pivotal event. "White people, black people, everyone loved Rosa Parks, because she was so visible in the community."
And while Parks and a group known as the Women's Political Council helped to execute the bus boycott, a decision was made to enlist King's help in leading the fight.
"We need the ministers," she said it was the boycott organizers decided. "We need the clergy. We cannot do that without them."
"We have a future to move into," the Rev. Edward Horne, pastor with the United Methodist Church and co-chairman of the Interfaith Council, told Sunday's gathering.
"Keeping with Dr. King's message of nonviolence," he said, the council plans to make the issue of gun violence a priority for change.
"We're all painfully aware of what happened a month ago," he said, referring to the shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. Now, he said, it is important "not just to be silent, but to move and do what we can."
"We're going to ask you to keep aware of the developments as they move along," Horne said, beginning with a community forum on the issue planned Feb. 3 at Temple Israel.
A selection of King's iconic quotes on civil rights and peace was recited throughout the event, including: "Non-violence means avoiding not only external physical violence, but internal violence of spirit. You not only don't shoot a man, you avoid hating him."