Keuka Commemoration: Invoking Dr. King’s Spirit

Staff Writer
The Chronicle Express

 It’s a tragedy that so many of today’s commemorations honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the slain civil rights leader, have become tame, stately memorials.

So says Rev. James Miller, an emeritus member of the Keuka College Board of Trustees, who will speak at a 7 p.m. ceremony honoring Dr. King, Tuesday, April 5 at Norton Chapel. April 4 is the 43rd anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination.

“The meetings, assemblies, and gatherings that Dr. King always led gave us marching orders,” said Rev. Miller, whose professional service as a Baptist minister started in that era. “We’re into memorial services today, and that’s a tragedy, because that’s not the best [way of] honoring Dr. King’s legacy. We’ve got to continue [carrying out] the marching orders.”

King delivered the baccalaureate address at Keuka College in June 1963.

According to Miller, in the late 50s and early 60s, before the Civil Rights Movement officially began, Keuka College hosted speakers including Dr. Clarence Jordan, Dr. Howard Thurman, and Dr. Charles Emerson Boddie, of Rochester’s Mt. Olivet Baptist Church. They drew hundreds of youth across the region to assemblies, he said, planting the seeds that would grow into a historic call to action.

“They were mentors, people who kind of got Dr. King fired up intellectually and spiritually,” Miller said. “Those leaders inspired and fueled generations of students.”

In his own talk Tuesday, titled “Ending Certain Worlds,” Miller said he plans to challenge the students of today to embrace the passion of their counterparts from yesteryear. In particular, Miller will urge action on the issue of gun control and encourage physical preservation of the many libraries, schools, highways and community centers named after Dr. King.

 “I think it’s a disgrace to ride down a city’s Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and find it full of   potholes, garbage and trash,” said Miller, describing a recent visit he made to St. Petersburg, Fla. “That’s not honoring one of America’s greatest citizens and a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

“If there’s a Martin Luther King Jr. Center in the heart of Rochester, Syracuse, Binghamton or Utica, that place should be a shining example of justice and reconciliation and service to people instead of an institution that’s been allowed to sort of die in present-day urban poverty,” said Miller.

Miller, who served on Keuka’s governing board from 1988 to 1997 and again from 1998 to 2001, delivered the 2010 baccalaureate address at the College. After retiring in 2005, he is now a frequent speaker at various houses of worship and at community forums. He has been a guest minister at Washington National Cathedral and the Riverside Church in New York City.

In 2000, Miller received the Walter Cronkite Faith and Freedom Award, presented by Cronkite, for “courageous work in behalf of civility, tolerance, and diversity in advancing public dialogue and citizen action on controversial and divisive issues.” Other recipients of Cronkite’s award include Tom Brokaw, Bill Moyers and George Clooney.

The April 5 event is sponsored by the College’s Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Center for Spiritual Life, and is free and open to the public. Music will be provided by the men’s choir of Geneva’s Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church, and a reception with light refreshments follows the service.