Duke Speakers Heed Dr. King's Call to 'Redeem America's Soul'

Over the past two days, Duke faculty and alumni spoke at events around the country celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Here are excerpts from some of their comments.

Omid Safi, professor and William and Bettye Martin Musham Director of the Duke Islamic Studies Center, was among the speakers at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, which for many years was the Rev. King’s home church. Safi emphasized how, at a time of controversy, King called upon people of faith to not remain silent or neutral. King, Safi said, “came not to soothe us, not to comfort us, not to have us take the easy path of status quo, but to redeem the soul of America.”

“We know that Brother Martin told us that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.  But he also told us that the arc of the moral universe doesn’t bend by itself.  The arc of the moral universe IS long, and we are entering a long term, long distance, struggle. 

“We are entering an age in which the mockery of our African-American brothers and sisters, mockery of Hispanics, of Muslims, of women, of Poor people, of refugees, of the disabled, is on the loose.  

“The arc of the moral universe IS long, but if we are going to bend it towards justice it will be when men and women of good will stand UP, reach OUT, hold hands, and say to each other as Brother Martin taught us: “I cannot be who I ought to be, until you become everything that you ought to be.” 


Rev. Will Willimon, former dean of Duke Chapel and current Divinity School professor, likewise said the current political climate required Christians “to resist, witness, and respond.” Willimon was keynote speaker for a Martin Luther King Jr. Day commemoration in Ferguson, Mo., where a police officer shot and killed an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown in 2014.

“It is not for me to ask that women be reconciled to the man who has publically, repeatedly wronged them in misogynistic word and deed, a man who boasts of his inability to admit wrong.  I’m not the one to tell Hispanic Americans to unify and support a person who built a political powerhouse by lying about them.

“We must not allow our silence or passive acquiescence to indicate that, ‘we like the way we are being treated.’

“Let us remember, as we recall the witness of Martin Luther King, that one of the gifts King gave oppressed people was a sense of agency.  His powerful words moved a nation from patience, acceptance, and facile calls for unity to righteous action.  I was there, so I can tell you: white supremacy in the pre-1960s South was pervasive and complete.  Segregation now and forever. Amen.” Read more here.


Alumnus Charles Becton, who received his law degree from Duke in 1969, spoke at the Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast in Rocky Mount, NC.  Currently the RJR Nabisco Endowed Chair at North Carolina Central School of Law, Becton

Historian Tim Tyson, a research scholar at the Center for Documentary Studies, spoke at a special service Sunday commemorating Rev. King at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Durham.