A day of reflection: History Center, University Circle recognize MLK with exhibits, programs

Every year, the Western Reserve Historical Society (WRHS) celebrates the history, spirit, and life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with free admission to the museum and exhibits of King’s Cleveland presence.

This year, WRHS is carrying on that tradition with a virtual curated collection of digital programs, activities, and content you can safely explore from home. All programs are free today, Monday, January 18, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.

Angie Lowrie, director of the WRHS Cleveland History Center, says the exhibit is not only informative in regard to King and other Cleveland leaders who fought for social justice and equality, it is also a good way to show support for the fight that continues today.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking at Cory United Methodist Church in 1963.“This is a day on, not a day off,” she says. “These programs are thought starters, with the idea of using this time for service and reflection.”

At the History Center, today is a day to reflect on King’s values and learn about how prominent King was in Cleveland during the Civil Right era. “I don’t know if folks realize that King did so much work in Cleveland,” Lowrie says. “During the time of the Civil Rights movement, Cleveland was part of it on a big scale. We really played a major part in the narrative.

King’s first visit to Cleveland was on Aug. 7, 1956, when visited Hollenden Hotel to report on the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Another big Cleveland stop came on May 14, 1963 when King spoke at several churches, including Cory United Methodist Church, after the Birmingham protests.

“About 10,000 to 15,000 people lined the streets, and more than 5,000 people showed up in the church,” says Lowrie, adding that the church could hold a maximum of 5,000 people. “Following that, they had to schedule additional appearances.”

King returned many times in 1967 to help register voters and urge people to vote as Carl Stokes campaigned to become the first African American mayor of a major American city. King's last public appearance in Cleveland was on Dec. 16, 1967 at the Human Rights Institute, when he debated the president of the Cleveland Bar Association, James C. Davis, on civil disobedience.

“He focused on local issues and was involved in getting the first Black mayor elected,” says Lowrie. “He was scheduled to be in Cleveland on April 10 but was assassinated on April 4.”

In addition to King’s presence and influence in Cleveland, the WRHS will also focus on community heroes in Cleveland throughout history.

Two Cleveland heroes will be showcased today in a Zoom presentation of “Carl & Louis Stokes: Making History, an exhibit that honors Mayor Carl B. Stokes and his brother, Congressman Louis Stokes.

Viewers can explore the exhibit in a guided virtual tour, with discussion of the political careers of Carl and Louis Stokes and the broader issues of African American and American urban history.

While the exhibit celebrates the achievements of Carl and Louis Stokes, it also uses their experiences to reflect on and explore topics such as the Civil Rights movement, social and economic disparity, and the rise and importance of heroes and exemplars.

Tours will be held today, Monday, Jan. 18 at 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. Admission is free, but registration is required in access the Zoom link.

The audience watching Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speak at Cory United Methodist Church in 1963.As a part of the History Center’s “Cleveland Starts Here” exhibit, Community Heroes features bios of some of the city’s prominent change makers—people like Alonzo Wright, Cleveland’s first Black millionaire; Karamu House founder Rowena Jelliffe; entrepreneur and businessman Garrett Morgan; community activist and child welfare advocate and Lethia Fleming; and modern-day heroes like LeBron James.

Scores of historic photos are available for viewing, thanks in part to the African American Archives Auxiliary, Lowrie says, while there is also an Ask a Historian page and a celebration of Black philanthropy in the Those Who Give Black tribute.

Lowrie says she hopes these exhibits will help people to not only reflect on King and his presence and influence in Cleveland, but they will also prompt people to continue the work started by King.

“I hope they will reflect on how they can help in the future,” she says. “Ask, ‘what can I do today to continue the work started 50 years ago.’”

Other online University Circle events
University Circle museums and organizations are also hosting virtual events in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The Cleveland Museum of Art will host "Becoming a Beloved Community" about King’s vision of a society based on justice, equal opportunity, and loving our neighbors and ourselves. The program includes opening remarks by Rev. Dr. Jawanza Colvin, the pastor of Olivet Institutional Baptist Church, a museum trustee, and the inaugural chair of the museum’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee; original poems recited by Cuyahoga County poet laureate Honey Bell-Bey and acclaimed poet Orlando Watson; and a moderated discussion. The free event runs from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. today. Click here to register.

The Cleveland Museum of Natural History will host an online Day of Discovery. Programs include the Secret Lives of Dinosaurs: Meet a Paleontologist, Human Evolution: Following in Lucy's Footsteps, Meet the Dinosaurs, It's Not Black & White: How a Museum Defines 'Race', and The Skies Above. Times vary by event. Check this program listing for more information.

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.