ATLANTA — David Oyelowo may have “played a king” in the movie Selma, but Dr. Gwendolyn Boyd, the first female president of Alabama State University, was the indisputable queen of the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Observance at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
As thousands MLK admirers outside flocked to the King Center and boyhood home on historic Auburn Avenue, another thousand or so packed the church as Oyelowo and Boyd brought the thundering throng to their feet with inspirational speeches that paid homage to the late Civil Rights legend.
As iconic Georgia Congressman John Lewis, Mayor Kasim Reed, Dr. Bernice Kinig and other dignitaries lining the pulpit and the front pews inside the church, Oyelowo first cause the church to quake when he regaled the august audience of reenacting the Selma-to-Montgomery march that led to the landmark Voting Rights Act exactly 50 years ago.
“Hollywood is comfortable with us playing subservient roles. This time I played a King,” he said to a standing ovation.
Boyd, who catapulted from the projects to become just the second ASU alumnus to become president, was equally electric as she systematically broke down Alabama State’s direct connection to the Civil Rights movement.
“It is not a coincidence that I am here today. This was a divine rendezvous,” she began. “Montgomery was the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement. But it is also the home of Alabama State. Our history are inextricably intertwined.
“Alabama State is only four blocks from where Dr. King and his family lived. And as Dr. Bernice has already pointed out, he visited the library often to finish his dissertation to get his Ph.D. The president of Alabama State allowed him to live on campus after his home had been bombed.”
She then recounted how David Abernathy was and ASU alum and how King and Lewis and others strategized for that historic march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma in what is also known as “Bloody Sunday.” It was also the spot where the Southern Christian Leadership Conference registered black residents to vote.
What was even more fascinating was what she shared next about the ASU-Civil Rights connection that can only be described as divine:
“Another fact that I was made aware of when Ambassador Andrew Young came to speak on our campus,” she began. “Alabama State was founded in Marion, Ala. Three young women were also born in Marion: Coretta Scott King (MLK’s wife), Juanita Abernathy (wife of Ralph) and Jean Young (wife of Ambassador Young).”
Of course, Abernathy and Young were King’s closest advisors and comrades in the struggle for justice in the 1960s that resulted in a nonviolent revolutioin in America.