On Martin Luther King Jr. Day: Jan. 21
This very special holiday, including the days leading up to it, is filled with events that one might attend. In parks and community centers, in schools and streets — in the Crystal Ballroom of the Hotel Shattuck in Berkeley — there will be rallies and remembrances all weekend long. On Monday, the annual freedom trail will run from San Jose to San Francisco. There’ll be the 20th annual multicultural rally at the International Longshore and Warehouse union hall in Oakland; a Peace and Justice rally in Civic Park in Walnut Creek; and celebrations in Richmond and Marin City.
And in San Francisco’s Mission District, the Museum of the African Diaspora, which is a terrific place and well worth a visit any time, is putting on a series of film, lecture, and musical performances. An African drumming ensemble will perform from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. Admission to the museum will be free.
But if there were just one event that we might suggest: Saturday night, January 19 at the Paramount Theater in Oakland, when Living Jazz presents “In the Name of Love,” featuring Jennifer Holiday, the Tony-award winning actress best known for her hit single from the musical Dreamgirls, “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going.” Warm up music includes the absolutely fabulous Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir and the Oakland Children’s Community Choir. This is, interestingly, Oakland’s only annual, non-denominational, musical tribute to Dr. King.
Earlier this week we spoke to Terrence Kelly, founder of the Interfaith Gospel Choir, about how gospel music affirms the message of Dr. King. “His message stands on the music,” he said and went on to explain what’s often forgotten, how many of the religious songs from the era of slavery — songs that have since come into the culture through spirituals, gospel, blues, and even hip hop — were originally written with double entendres and as covert messages.”
“Go down, Moses, Let my people go. They were talking about themselves and because they couldn’t sing let the slaves go, they put their protest in another form using passages from the Bible. The‘River Jordan, for example, was not only a reference to that place but actually a reference to death. Escape and death were sometimes synonymous. Slave owners understood some of these references but not others. Remember that the drum had been taken away just for this reason.
“It’s hard to imagine these days but if you take away all the buzz of daily life, take out all the noise, you realize, especially at night, how far the voice travels and so many of these songs were picked up and relayed from plantation to plantation; that’s the real reason these were songs of hope, and gradually as people became more free these emerged into freedom songs. And some of the older songs have been restored in joyous ways; because so many of these songs are just so sad. Slave owners thought the songs were just about death because they sounded like dirges.”
“But for me,” he added, “every time I hear them I feel the spirit and the happiness in that.”
Included in: Kids Around the Bay
Mark MacNamara is a journalist who has written for such publications as Salon.com, Vanity Fair, Newsweek, The Stanford Social Innovation Review and The International Herald Tribune. His website is: macnamband.com.