History of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Program

Page updated on Jun 14, 2021 at 5:37 PM

History of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Program

In 1973, Alexandria civic leader and activist, Alice P. Morgan initiated the City’s first memorial program in honor of the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The program was endorsed by then Mayor Charles Beatley to be held on King’s birthday upon being approached by Morgan and other citizens.  This was a decade prior to President Ronald Reagan signing the holiday bill into law in 1983 and three decades prior to every state recognizing and celebrating Dr. King’s birthday as a National Holiday in 2000. 

The 2021 Program: Encore Viewing
The City of Alexandria honored the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in a virtual community program that premiered on Friday, January 15, 2021 at 7 p.m. The program, ”The Fierce Urgency of Building the Beloved Community," was presented by the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Planning Committee.  Watch the program, read biographies of the participants, and see the Alexandria City Public School's 2021 Poster Exhibition.

About the Memorial Planning Committee

After establishing the very first memorial program, Morgan served as the Committee Chair leading the planning for the city-wide event for 34 years. She retired from the Committee in 2008 after 35 years of service. Other notable pillars of the Alexandria community who have gone on to lead the Committee include Ms. Jo J. Butler, a Committee member since the mid-1980s who served as Chair after Ms. Morgan, and Ms. Mabel T. Lyles who served as a Committee member from the mid-1990s until her death in 2019. Ms. Lyles served as Committee Chair after Ms. Butler for nine years. The Committee’s current Chair, Ms. Rosa Byrd, has been a Committee member since 2015 and became Chair in 2016. She is joined in volunteer service by more than a dozen members who meet monthly over the course of each year to plan the event. Over the years, the Committee has been served by such notables as Jackie Razavi, the late Rev. James H. Boyd, Viola Evans, Ethel Funn, Fred Hill, Eudora Lyles, Helen Miller, Mary Redfearn, Heitha Beane, Elder James A. Parker, and Decima Webber. Others who have served include Barbara Norton, Paul Glist, Arthur L. Nelson and Dorothy Turner. Paul Glist served as the committee’s secretary for 18 years and Arthur L. Nelson served as the committee’s treasurer for 36 years.

Lawrence P. (Robbie) RobinsonAt age 89, the committee’s longest serving member, Alexandria living legend, community and civic activist Lawrence P. “Robbie” Robinson (pictured here) is Committee photographer, capturing and documenting each event. He has been a member of the Committee since its inception. Robbie offers this reflection:

From the time I became a member representing the Departmental Progressive Club, Inc it has been a rewarding experience. Specifically, working with the leaders and members consistently functioning as a team has been a pleasure.  I am proud of my contribution as photographer and look forward to having the pictures on display and seeing the attendees physically and mentally walk down memory lane.

About the Memorial Program

For the past 47 years, the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Planning Committee has purposed to host a city-wide memorial program on Dr. King’s birthday, January 15th. The program is sponsored by the City of Alexandria in cooperation with local religious, spiritual, civic and social organizations. Annually, the citizen-led, volunteer Committee plans an interfaith, intergenerational, multi-racial and ethnic program embodying the principles of its founder and espousing such values of diversity and inclusivity revered by Dr. King. Over the years, the program has featured some of the City’s and area’s most notable musical guests, acclaimed speakers such as elected officials, dignitaries, faith leaders, civic leaders, activists and journalists who assemble in the City’s varied places of faith with youth ushering people in to remember Dr. King. Traditionally the program includes a procession of faiths by religious and spiritual leaders, a rendition of the Negro National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and concludes with participants locking arms to sing, “We Shall Overcome.” Regularly, the Committee has youth to serve as hosts and hostesses for the program, many of whom participate from elementary school through to their high school graduation and are honored by the Committee.

The Committee today continues to work in cooperation with the City’s Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Affairs in planning the event and looks to continue to expand its work beyond just the memorial program to carry on the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The expanded program mission is to build bridges that span generations, cultures, and socioeconomic status, raising awareness and educating all people to walk in the way of racial, social and economic justice, civil rights and human equality. The Committee welcomes all who wish to volunteer their time and efforts to ensure the legacy of Dr. King remains imprinted in the hearts and minds of the City as conceived some 47 years ago by Ms. Alice Morgan and the citizens of Alexandria.

Past Memorial Programs

MLK Celebration photo board 1980-1983These slide shows have photographs of Memorial Programs through the years.

Can you help us identify more people? You will notice that many of the slides are captioned with some of the people in the image. However, we have not been able to identify everyone in all of the photographs. If you are able to help us identify anyone please  contact the Alexandria Black History Museum and state the year, slide number and if necessary which person you are identifying in the photo.