|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 hed heard.
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.
thought But you just met me. You dont know anything about me, said
Smith, director of UKs African-American Studies and Research Program and professor
Smith agreed to draft a tribute to King which he delivered
at the Millennium Sunday Convocation April 2. The event was part of the colleges
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 colleges Gandhi Center for Reconciliation was founded and
Gandhis grandson Arun Gandhi and King family members made appearances.
said Smiths 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.
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.
said the experience was a once-in-a-lifetime event for himself and his family.
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.
attended the Morehouse convocation with his wife and two daughters.
assignment was an awesome task, Smith said. To subdue his nervousness in preparing the
tribute, which Kings family would witness, Smith said he relied on his faith.
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 Lexingtons
Consolidated Baptist Church.
said Smiths tribute was just great. Mrs. King was very pleased.