Stanford celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with four-day festival

Stanford will celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this year with a free, four-day webinar and documentary film festival that will open on Friday evening, Jan. 15, and extend through Monday, Jan. 18, the federal holiday marking the birth of the civil rights leader. At the festival, the King Institute will announce the World House Project, a new initiative.

Stanford will celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. this year with a free, four-day online festival featuring musical performances, documentary films and conversations inspired by his unanswered question, Where do we go from here?

Eva Grace Lemon (7 years old), Martin Luther King Jr., Aretha Willis (7 years old); background Andy Young, Hosea Williams, march to integrate schools, Grenada, MS, 1966. (Image credit: Bob Fitch Photography Archive © Stanford Libraries)

It was the question King posed in a 1967 sermon to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an African American civil rights organization, in which he concluded: “Let us realize that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

King also explored the question in his 1967 book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community, the last book he wrote before his assassination in the spring of 1968.

The online festival, hosted by the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford, is open to the public. The event begins Friday, Jan. 15, and extends through Monday, Jan. 18, the federal holiday marking the birthday of the civil rights leader.

View the daily schedule of events – trailers are provided for the documentary films – and register for the festival here.

“I hope the King Holiday can become an occasion for informing people about King’s legacy and how it relates to the King Institute, but more broadly, how it relates to the San Francisco Bay Area,” said Clayborne Carson, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Centennial Professor of History, Emeritus, at Stanford, and director of the King Institute.

“One of the things that will be made clear is that the King family has had a very special relationship with this area and with Stanford.”

The festival will open Friday evening with musical performances, including the family video concert, “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: Through the Eyes of Children,” an hour-long presentation of music and songs by Healdsburg Jazz, a Bay Area performance and music education organization.

The event will promote one live, online concert on Sunday afternoon, “In the Name of Love: The 19th Annual Musical Tribute Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” by Living Jazz, a music performance and education organization based in Oakland, California. The concert will be offered on a “pay what you can” admission, with proceeds benefitting its program of free music education for low-income elementary school children in Oakland.

The festival’s documentary films will cover a range of topics, including the history of the civil rights and anti-apartheid movements, the life and legacy of American author and activist James Baldwin, and a portrait of King in the final years of his life. View the daily schedule of the documentaries – trailers are provided – and register for the festival here.

People who register for the event will be able to watch the films throughout the King Holiday Weekend in any order and at any time.

Daylong webinars and evening discussions

Throughout the weekend, Carson and his staff will welcome participants and invited guests into a Zoom meeting room for webinar discussions about a range of topics. The webinars will be held from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day.

One of those invited guests will be Connie Field, who directed three of the festival’s films: Freedom on My Mind, which tells the story of the Mississippi voter registration struggles of 1961 to 1964; Have You Heard from Johannesburg, a seven-film series covering the struggle of the global movement to end apartheid in South Africa; and Al Helm (The Dream), which follows the Palestinian National Theater and an African American choir as they mount a touring play about King – written by Carson – all over the West Bank.

On MLK Day, the discussion will focus on King in the Wilderness, an HBO documentary that chronicles the final months of King’s life, revealing a conflicted leader who faced an onslaught of criticism from both sides of the political spectrum.

Among the topics that Carson will discuss are the civil rights history of the Bay Area and the legacy of African Americans whose civil rights work was deeply influenced by Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian nationalist and spiritual leader.

The festival will also feature a pre-recorded conversation between Carson and the Rev. Al Sharpton, founder and president of the civil rights organization National Action Network, reflecting on the festival’s theme.

The schedule of discussion topics and link to join will be emailed to people who register for the festival.

Carson described the webinars as “virtual versions” of the King Institute’s annual open house – the chance to share documents, photographs and other artifacts from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project, a comprehensive collection of King’s most significant correspondence, sermons, speeches, published writings and unpublished manuscripts.

“I’ll be able to share interesting things we’ve found about King and his family and his life during the webinars,” Carson said. “I will have the opportunity to share artifacts that they wouldn’t be able to see elsewhere. I don’t think we’re going to have much trouble filling up more than 20 hours of webinars.”

Documentary films

Carson organized each day’s films by theme – each framed by a question. On Saturday, the theme is “Where are We?” On Sunday, it is “Who are We?” And on Monday, it is “Where Should We Go?”

Among the 16 documentary films that will be available throughout the festival are:

  • One Voice: The Story of the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir
  • Love and Solidarity: Rev. James Lawson and Nonviolence in the Search for Workers Rights
  • James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket
  • Mother, Daughter, Sister
  • At the River I Stand: the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike and the Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • We Are the Dream: The Kids of the Oakland MLK Oratorical Fest

For more information on the festival, visit the festival webpage.