James White, leader of Riverdale-Yonkers Ethical Culture Society, and Jorge Piña held up a framed black and white photograph of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a thank you note the civil rights leader sent the humanist organization on Aug. 4, 1960.
“Many congregations have very beautiful icons, books that are sacred and carried in procession. We have this letter, of which we are justly very proud,” Mr. White told the 30 people attending Ethical Culture’s tribute to Dr. King this Sunday. “This congregation has deep and abiding ties with Dr. King and his movement.”
Dr. King’s ties with the community include summering with his family in Riverdale before delivering his stirring “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963.
In the 1950s, the society’s founder Matthew Ies Spetter organized the Riverdale Committee in Defense of Human Rights in the South, which later raised $500 to assist students holding sit-in protests under Dr. King’s guidance.
Dr. Spetter received a letter explaining how the money would benefit thousands of students who faced brutality, arrests and jailings “with quiet heroism.”
“Our fight continues and we here in the south are strengthened by the knowledge that your determination, like ours, will continue until democratic rights become a realty for every person in our land,” Mr. White read aloud from Dr. King’s note.
He then placed the memento on a wooden stand in the corner of the society’s Fieldston headquarters.
The meeting room returned to singing protest songs, such as “We Shall Overcome,” listening to members read poetry by Langston Hughes and Jamie McKenzie and discussing how they could continue Dr. King’s legacy while dealing with modern civil rights issues.
Ethical Culture’s celebration kicked off several ceremonies honoring Dr. King. On Monday, third graders in the Riverdale Neighborhood House’s after-school program crafted a unity wreath.
The children colored paper hands, covering them in depictions of activities and characteristics that make them unique.