MLK Chautauqua portrayal offers insight

WARREN – The world knows Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for his stirring “I Have a Dream” speech, given on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963.

But Marvin Jefferson wants those who attend the 2014 Ohio Chautauqua to become familiar with the civil rights leader during a much different time in his life.

“Many people focus on Martin Luther King in 1963, because that was when he was arguably his most popular,” said Jefferson, who will portray King as a part of the Ohio Chautauqua program. “In 1967, however, he was not the beloved figure we know. That was the year he spoke out against the Vietnam War. That was the year where he was much more critical of American society and the American government.”

Jefferson will portray King during the 2014 Ohio Chautauqua program, sponsored by the Ohio Humanities. Warren is among the four communities to host the program this year. The event features daytime workshops for adults and children, and nightly presentations. The theme of this year’s program is “Journey Stories.”

On each of the five evenings, a scholar dressed in full costume will portray a featured character and interact with the audience. There will also be a question-and-answer period at the end of each performance.

This year’s historic characters also include Edith Russell, Olive Ann Oatman, J.G. Bruff and Henry David Thoreau.

Fitting in with the program’s theme of journey stories, Jefferson wants to show audiences that King was more than just a symbol; he was a human being who went on a very real journey in his own heart.

The King that Jefferson will portray has recently completed his “Beyond Vietnam” speech, which he gave on April 4, 1967. That speech broke his silence regarding the war, and his opposition to the military effort brought him intense criticism from media, other civil rights leaders and even people within his own circle.

King’s words even reached the White House, forever damaging a previously beneficial alliance between President Lyndon Johnson and the civil rights leader.

“I believe that Dr. King’s most courageous speech was absolutely “Beyond Vietnam,” Jefferson said. “He caught hell for what he said in that speech. Almost everyone turned against him, but he knew it was the right thing to do.”

It was King’s unwavering belief in the face of opposition, Jefferson said, that truly shaped the civil rights leader into a historic symbol.

“Dr. King said, ‘Cowardice asks the question, is it safe? Expediency ask the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular?'” Jefferson said. “That’s the kind of person Dr. King really was; he was led by his conscience, and that’s where he really showed the type of leader he was.”

Ohio Chautauqua is sponsored and presented by Ohio Humanities. It is hosted locally by the Tribune Chronicle and the Warren-Trumbull County Public Library and is in partnership with Trumbull 100 and the Trumbull County Tourism Bureau, with support from the Warren Library Association.