When Martin Luther King came to Montreat

Ina Hughs
Special to The Black Mountain News

On Aug. 21, 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King stood at the pulpit in Montreat's Anderson Auditorium, his words rising like passages of scripture written from the day's headlines. His voice, part lullaby, part rolling thunder, filled the room and spilled into a troubled world.

Dr. King was a day late arriving in Montreat because of his efforts to help bring peace to the racial unrest in Los Angeles. The fact that he came at all is an amazing and grace-filled occasion in the history of Montreat. Times were unsettled, what with the Selma marches and Bloody Sunday in Alabama three months earlier, the recent murder of Malcolm X and the first American combat troops having just been sent to Vietnam, with people burning their draft cards in protest.

In less than three years, Dr. King would lie dead, assassinated in Memphis while peacefully protesting for fair wages and better working conditions.

In celebration and commemoration of King's landmark speech in Montreat 50 years ago in August, the Montreat Conference Center is hosting a three-day event Aug. 21-23, the title of which explains its intent: "Dr. King's Unfinished Agenda: A Teach-In for Rededicating Ourselves to the Dream."

At the end of the article is a lineup of the event's keynote speakers. Register at

The conference seeks to engage an intergenerational community in finding new ways to embrace and lift up Dr. King's legacy and his dreams, so well-articulated in Montreat on Aug. 21, 1965.

Dean K. Thompson, president emeritus at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and vice-chair of the planning team for the conference, recalls how those who chose and were led to stand up in various ways and venues in those years were preeminently inspired by Dr. King.

"Before a major protest or demonstration, Dr. King and colleagues would gather the participants for prayer, fasting, singing and a 'teach-in' or educational training. The context often was intergenerational," Thompson said.

"Thus, our impending conference aspires to serve," he said, "as an intergenerational 'teach-in' that will be under-girded by worship, the singing of spirituals and freedom songs, inspiring oratory and preaching, and nurture for ongoing action. We especially hope to focus on Dr. King's own courageous, pastoral, and prophetic struggles against what he signified as the scourges of racism, poverty, war, and materialism. Moreover, we want to foster and call for rededication to his unfulfilled dream."

Thompson recalls how Dr. King's presence and message delivered in Anderson Auditorium that year was an extraordinary - indeed, watershed - event for the Montreat Conference Center.

"I am convinced," Thompson said, "that hundreds of thousands of my contemporaries owe and connect their initial witness for racial justice to King's own incredible ministry and dream."

The gathering around "Dr. King's Unfinished Agenda" offers people of all ages and interests, backgrounds and political perspectives a challenge to embrace and lift up Dr. King's unfulfilled dream as their very own.

Basic registration for the event is $40. For those who would like to help provide scholarship funds for the conference, a registration of $100 is appreciated.

Montreat Conference Center is one of three national conference centers affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), annually visited by more than 35,000 people seeking physical and spiritual renewal.

The lineup of keynote speakers for "Dr. King's Unfinished Agenda" includes:

  • U.S. Rep. John Lewis, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Leonard Pitts Jr.
  • Dr. Tony McNeill, director of worship and arts at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta
  • Bishop Vashti McKenzie, the first woman elected bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church
  • New York Times columnist and CNN commentator Charles M. Blow
  • The Rev. Dr. William Barber, president of the N.C. NAACP
  • The Rev. Dr. Yvette Flunder, pastor of the City of Refuge United Church of Christ in Oakland, California
  • The Rev. Paul Roberts, president of John C. Smith Theological Seminary
  • The Rev. Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church

Remembering King, at Montreat

What: Dr. King's Unfinished Agenda

When: Aug. 21-23

Where: Montreat Conference Center, Montreat

Info/register:, 669-2911, ext. 339

Cost: $40 basic registration