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By Selena Stevens

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Smith drafted a tribute to King which he delivered at the Millennium Sunday Convocation in Atlanta.  The event was part of Morehouse College's 133rd Spiritual Awareness Week.

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April 19, 2000 – (Lexington, Ky.) – When University of Kentucky professor Gerald Smith called Dean Lawrence Carter of the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel at Morehouse College in Atlanta last year, he only wanted to introduce himself. As the co-editor of a book in progress on the early sermons of Martin Luther King Jr., Smith thought he should make the acquaintance of the chapel dean at the alma mater of the slain civil rights leader and find out about a Morehouse convocation of which he’d heard.

He never expected what came next. After only a few minutes talking, Carter invited Smith to give a tribute speech to Martin Luther King Jr. during a special ceremony in Atlanta.

“I thought ‘But you just met me. You don’t know anything about me,’” said Smith, director of UK’s African-American Studies and Research Program and professor of history.

Smith agreed to draft a tribute to King which he delivered at the Millennium Sunday Convocation April 2. The event was part of the college’s 133rd Spiritual Awareness Week, which featured the induction of Smith and others into the Martin Luther King Jr. Collegium of Scholars for following the tradition of service set by the slain civil rights leader. Also during the event, a United Nations declaration was made calling for a “Decade of Peace and Nonviolence for the Children of the World,” the college’s Gandhi Center for Reconciliation was founded and Gandhi’s grandson Arun Gandhi and King family members made appearances.

Carter said Smith’s co-editing of the early sermons volume of the MLK Papers Project at Stanford University was a major factor in choosing Smith for the tribute.

“We felt he would be the most knowledgeable and qualified scholar to make a statement about the desire to name Martin Luther King Jr. the American of the 20th century,” he said. “As a clergyman, we felt he had an even stronger qualification.”

Smith said the experience was a once-in-a-lifetime event for himself and his family.

“The induction into the collegium was a great feeling,” he said. I also was deeply honored to give the tribute to Dr. King. I praise God for giving me and my family the opportunity to share in such a rewarding experience.”

Smith attended the Morehouse convocation with his wife and two daughters.

The assignment was an awesome task, Smith said. To subdue his nervousness in preparing the tribute, which King’s family would witness, Smith said he relied on his faith.

“All I could think is that the Lord blessed me with the opportunity, and I should give it my best,” said Smith, who also serves as associate minister at Lexington’s Consolidated Baptist Church.

Carter said Smith’s tribute was “just great. Mrs. King was very pleased.”

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