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Women at the Well service honors Martin Luther King Jr., stories of women activists

Jan 19, 2012
By Dawn Ellicott Clinkscale

Photo Gallery: “We’ve come this far by faith”

In a service that blended worship and remembrance, members of the Louisville Seminary community gathered in the Frank H. and Fannie W. Caldwell Chapel to honor the life and legacy of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Led by the student-run organization, Women at the Well, the community was invited to consider King’s legacy by reflecting first on his words and work, and then on the stories of other civil rights activists for whom King served as inspiration. Focused on the theme, “We’ve come this far by faith: Honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” the January 16 service was opened by the Rev. Dr. Debra J. Mumford, Frank H. Caldwell Associate Professor of Homiletics and Associate Dean for Students, who also serves as Faculty Advisor to Women at the Well.

The service incorporated a recording of King’s final message, often referenced by the title “I’ve Been to Mountain Top,” which was delivered in Memphis Tennessee on April 3, 1968. In his speech, King called for unity, continued nonviolent protest, and political action – as he challenged the nation to live up to its ideals. “All we say to America is, ‘Be true to what you said on paper,’” King said. Challenging what he called illegal injunctions, King reminded the nation of its citizens’ basic First Amendment privileges.

“Somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for rights…,” Kings said in his speech.

Notably, King closed his message with a biblical reference, which served to encourage followers, yet many wonder if it also prophesied his untimely death on April 4, the day following his speech.

“Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because, I've been to the mountain top… And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land,” King said.

After reflecting on these words from Dr. King’s message, Norman Williams, a student in the Master of Arts and Marriage and Family Therapy (MAMFT) degree program, read the Old Testament account in which God’s people are told to continue their quest to enter into the Promised Land without the leadership of Moses, who had died and would not be taking them there (Joshua 1:1-5).

The service also included the voices of civil rights activists Ida B. Wells, Coretta Scott King, Fannie Lou Hamer, Alice Walker, Michelle Obama, and 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Winners Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa's first democratically elected female president, who shared the award with Leymah Gbowee, from Liberia, and Tawakkul Karman a leader in the protest movement in Yemen. Seminary students dramatically interpreted the stories of these women who have fought for civil rights in the quest for peace and justice.

In closing, Dr. Heather Thiessen, Louisville Seminary alumna (MDiv ’00; ThM ’02) and director of the Women’s Center on the campus, invited participants to post on a memorial board the pictures of historical and contemporary civil rights leaders who have inspired them. The board quickly filled with the faces of several well-known individuals, including Woman's Rights activists Gloria Steinem and Margaret Sanger; Gandhi; Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi; domestic violence educator Marie Fortune; and Los Angeles-based civil rights lawyer Constance Rice.

“I am so grateful to the Women at the Well for a very moving and inspirational worship service. Hearing the women’s stories through ‘their voices’ was so meaningful,” said LPTS student Susie Wiggins, who is completing her final semester in the MAMFT and MDiv dual degree program.

Women at the Well is a racial ethnic women’s organization founded in 2003 on the campus of Louisville Seminary. Their collective purpose is to resist racism and sexism and to help other women in their struggle for well-being and wholeness.


The service also included student leadership from Toya Richards, Stacy Debose-Brown, Tiffany Williams, Aritha Berroa ,Angela Johnson, Traci Simmons, Dawn Ellicott Clinkscale.

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