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Updated 5:30 PM February 1, 2008




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Civil rights leader, poet remembered

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Photos: Symposium highlights >

The spirits of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and poet Langston Hughes shared the same stage last week as part of the MLK 22nd annual symposium.
Actor Ben Vereen, above, reads one of many poems by Langston Hughes during the presentation "An Afternoon with Martin and Langston." Felix Justice, below, portrays King. (Photo by Scott Galvin, U-M Photo Services)

"An Afternoon with Martin and Langston," which featured actors Felix Justice as King and Ben Vereen as Hughes, took place Jan. 21 at the Power Center.

Justice delivered a dramatic composite of several King speeches, with emphasis on the civil rights activist's famous address "A Knock at Midnight."

King's words often addressed the relationship between his ministry and his activism aimed at ending the Vietnam War.

"He knew his life was short," Justice said of King's final speech April 3, 1968. "Martyrdom was impending." King was assassinated the following day at age 39.

As Vereen took the stage, he reflected upon King's message.

"I listened to Dr. King's sermon and I realized we ain't through," Vereen told the crowd. "War is still going on."

For his portion of the presentation, Vereen read several poems by Hughes, who died in 1967 at age 65. Considered the "Black Bard of Harlem," Hughes is best known for his writing during the Harlem Renaissance.

Vereen started his performance by reciting "Minstrel Man." An excerpt:

Because my mouth
Is wide with laughter
And my throat
Is deep with song,
You do not think
I suffer after
I have held my pain
So long?

Before reading "Mother to Son," Vereen made the connection between King's activism and the work of black women pioneers. "It was because Rosa Parks sat down that the conscience of a world got up," he said.

Other poems read by Vereen include "Dream Variations" ("Night coming tenderly/Black like me"), "Dinner Guests," "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," "Life is Fine," "The Negro Mother" and "Let America be America Again."

Event sponsors include Business and Finance, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, Department of Intercollegiate Athletics, School of Information, School of Music, Theatre & Dance, Office of Financial Aid, College of Engineering, Office of Institutional Equity and the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives.

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