Yale University Observances of Martin Luther King Jr. Day Include Talks, Festival, Beinecke Display

The legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. will be explored in four events on campus in observance of the late civil rights leader’s birthday on Monday, Jan. 19. A family festival focusing on environmental justice will be held at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, a slide presentation and informal discussion will be presented at the Sterling Memorial Library, a talk by an award-winning actor and playwright is scheduled at the School of Medicine, and a display on the Amistad captives will continue at the Beinecke Museum.

Family festival at the Peabody Museum

“Dr. King’s Legacy of Environmental Justice: A Global Perspective” is the title of a free family festival being held 10 a.m.-5 p.m. at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, 170 Whitney Ave. The event, which was inaugurated last year and drew some 2,000 people to the museum on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, will feature educational activities and entertainment celebrating the interrelationships between the environment and culture.

Highlights of this year’s festival include hip hop music with Fish Fry and DJ Kenny P, children’s storytelling with the group Tales from the First World and other storytellers, and drumming and dance performances by such groups as African Arawak Connection, Laotian Drum and Dance, Folklorico Bohio, Heartbeat of the Land Singers, Drums No Guns: Youth Nation 2001, and Michael Mills and Children of the Sun.

The spoken word legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. will be honored during an “Environmental Justice Poetry Slam,” during which registered participants will read or perform their original poetry (in freestyle, rap or traditionally structured poetic form) on the theme of living in an urban environment. Prizes will be awarded in four categories: elementary, middle, and high school students, and adults. Winning poems will be published. The poetry slam will be hosted by Ngoma.

In spaces designated as “Environmental Justice Activity Areas,” participants in the family festival will have the opportunity to engage in educational activities and take part in an event-wide contest with prizes. Free shuttle bus transportation will be provided from New Haven Housing Authority sites to the museum, as well as from the museum to the Dr. Martin Luther King Youth Conference being held at the Dixwell Community House in New Haven.

The event is sponsored by Citizens Bank in association with numerous agencies and individuals in the City of New Haven, as well as Yale’s Office of New Haven Affairs. For further information, call the Peabody Museum InfoTape at 432-5050.

Noted playwright and actor to deliver address

At 1 p.m. Jan. 19, noted playwright, actor and professor Anna Deavere Smith will deliver the keynote address for the School of Medicine’s annual program observing Martin Luther King Jr. Day. “Snapshots: Glimpses of America in Change” is the theme of the program, which will be held in Mary S. Harkness Auditorium in the Sterling Hall of Medicine, 333 Cedar St. The program, which will include the presentation of Distinguished Community Service Awards to medical and public health students, is free and open to the public. A reception will follow at 3 p.m. in the Beaumont Room.

Smith is best known as the author/performer of two one-woman plays about racial tensions in American cities: “Twilight: Los Angeles,” which earned two Tony nominations in 1992 and won an Obie Award, and “Fires in the Mirror,” runner-up for the 1993 Pulitzer Prize and an Obie Award winner. The plays are part of her series called “On the Road: A Search for the American Character,” in which she explores issues of race, class and gender in America’s national identity. Smith is also the Ann O’Day Maples Professor of Arts at Stanford University and was recently awarded a MacArthur Foundation “genius” fellowship for her work in the theater. A Newsweek article hailed her as “the most exciting individual in American theater.”

Library events reflect on King’s legacy

A slide presentation on the Amistad affair and a talk exploring the legacy of Cinque and Martin Luther King Jr. are being presented that day at the Sterling Memorial Library. The slide presentation, titled “Amistad: The True Story Behind the Movie,” will be delivered by Judith A. Schiff, chief research archivist at the library, at 2 p.m. in the lecture hall of the library, 120 High St. Schiff has also prepared the library exhibit showcasing various manuscripts relating to the Amistad affair, including papers of the defense attorney for the African captives, Roger Sherman Baldwin, Yale Class of 1811, as well as a long letter handwritten by Cinque, the leader of the captives, while he was living in New Haven.

Following Schiff’s talk, Kate Reynolds, training and staff development officer for the library, will facilitate an open discussion reflecting upon the legacy of both Cinque and Martin Luther King Jr. The event is free, and the public is welcome.

Amistad at the Beinecke

Pen-and-ink sketches of the Amistad captives, which were drawn while the Africans were in New Haven awaiting trial, are now on display to the public for the first time at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, corner of Wall and High streets. The 22 sketches are the work of William H. Townsend (1822-51) and were given to Yale in 1934 by Asa G. Dickerman, whose grandmother was the artist’s cousin.

Townsend must have been about 18 years old when he drew the Africans’ portraits, says Beinecke curator Christa Sammons. According to the captions, the individuals depicted are Grabo, Little Kale, Fargina, Sar, Bungair, Bana, Bar, Farquanar, Kimbo, Kezzuza, Suma, Fuli, Boro, Malhue, Saby, Marqu, Pona (profile and front view), and Yuang. Two of the men are unidentified.

Little is known about Townsend, aside from the facts that he is buried in the Grove Street Cemetery and was descended from a family that traced its New Haven roots back to the 1730s, says Sammons. According to family lore, she notes, prior to drawing the portraits, Townsend had quit his job as a grocery delivery boy because he felt demeaned by having to knock at the back doors of his customers. “Perhaps he had an artistic temperament,” suggests Sammons. “The vibrancy of his 22 Amistad sketches certainly supports that speculation.”

The portraits will be on view through Jan. 31. The Beinecke Library, located at 121 Wall St., is open for exhibition viewing 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturday. Admission is free.

Share this with Facebook Share this with Twitter Share this with LinkedIn Share this with Email Print this