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Dustin Wood’s Class Visits Historic Site of MLK Speech

Posted by on Thursday, September 28, 2023 in Spotlights.

The Civil Rights Movement is sometimes described as a religious phenomenon. Many of the Movement’s leaders were ministers, and many more individuals were inspired to participate in the Movement because of their religious beliefs. While religion motivated many church members to join the struggle for civil rights, most churches were hesitant to support the Movement in an official capacity.

On April 25, 1957, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at the Conference on Christian Faith and Human Relations co-hosted by Vanderbilt Divinity School and Scarritt College. In his speech, “The Role of the Church in Facing the Nation’s Chief Moral Dilemma,” King urged more than 300 church leaders to see the Church’s obligation to address racial injustice.

“[E]very Christian,” King argued, “is confronted with the basic responsibility of working courageously for a non-segregated society. The task of conquering segregation is an inescapable must confronting the Christian Churches.” King’s speech directly confronted those who desired distance between the Church and the Civil Rights Movement. “If we are to remain true to the gospel of Jesus Christ,” King exhorted, “we cannot rest until segregation and discrimination are banished from every area of American Life.”

Thanks to the generosity of Scarritt Bennett Center, Dr. Dustin Wood’s Rhetoric of U.S. Religion class had the opportunity to visit the very space where King delivered his message. Wood’s class gathered in historic Wightman Chapel to discuss King’s speech and entertain present-day applications of the address. As his students sat in the pews once occupied by King’s audience, Wood encouraged his class to reflect on their own prejudices and to consider their role in working toward a more just society.