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Drew University Presents Podcast Celebrating MLK’s Speech at Drew

A deep dive and reflection of the historic speech

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MLK at Drew in 1964

February 2024 – Drew University hosted a debut listening session of The American Dream Podcast, commemorating the 60th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s visit to Drew.

The podcast, moderated and chronicled by Henry Anyomi T’24, featured Roger Martin C’65, who was a junior at Drew at the time of the speech; Traci West, James W. Pearsall Professor of Christian Ethics and African American Studies; and Everett Kelsey, grandson of George D. Kelsey, former Henry Anson Buttz Professor of Christian Ethics at Drew.

The event and podcast were directed by Drew’s Center on Religion, Culture, and Conflict.

Martin, who is a retired president of Moravian University, reflected on the atmosphere and demographic of Drew at the time. “We all knew who MLK was, but had little knowledge of the plight of Black Americans,” he said of the mostly white middle class student body. “The speech led me to a deeper understanding. I felt like a profound preacher was preaching to us. That really struck me.”

As a student leader at the time, Martin was invited to a private reception to personally meet King, who described him as “friendly, interested, and charismatic.” Meeting King had a major impact on Martin and he became involved in the civil rights movement and remains a social justice advocate. “It led me to focus on social justice issues during my career as an educator.”

As a professor of Christian social ethics, West discussed the core message of King’s speech and his connection to George Kelsey.

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Students and faculty gathered to listen to the podcast

Prior to joining Drew, George Kelsey was the Director of the School of Religion at Morehouse College. It was during this time he first met King, who studied sociology at Morehouse. George Kelsey was King’s mentor and is credited for his decision to devote his life to ministry. “He is talking specifically about racial justice but it is very intersectional and there were many topics covered to help us to understand how racial justice is directly related to economic justice,” said West. “Making the connection to the global issues and the local issues in the U.S., and how global issues of poverty were directly related to local issues in the U.S.”

It is believed that MLK came to talk at Drew through his connection to George Kelsey. West, who is a predecessor of George Kelsey’s position at Drew, speculated on how King’s speech was likely tailored to reflect George Kelsey’s teachings.

“This speech is so detailed, so comprehensive in its vision,” said West. “It’s so articulate in the ways it incorporates a philosophical understanding of agape, gives a very philosophical definition of nonviolent resistance, a theological understanding of redemptive suffering, as well as very concrete political strategies. When we talk about its legacy, the speech is embedded in a scholarly tradition that George Kelsey is the bearer of, and I think influences Martin Luther King Jr. to be able to create the best version of his own articulation of Christian social ethics.”

Everett Kelsey shared memories from his grandfather, whom he called Daddy George. When asked how he would describe his grandfather, he replied, “Truth and love. That was Daddy George. He was quite selfless.”

Martin offered advice for students today. “Young people need to get involved in these very important issues in American society. All students need to be conscious of what is happening and involved in doing something about it.”

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