Tom Eblen

Danny Glover says his Lexington speech will frame King’s legacy amid today’s issues

Danny Glover was an activist in San Francisco and worked six years in the city’s community development office before starting his acting career.
Danny Glover was an activist in San Francisco and worked six years in the city’s community development office before starting his acting career. Invision/Associated Press

Danny Glover speaks Monday at Lexington’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration, but don’t expect him to say a lot about Lethal Weapon, The Color Purple, Witness or any of his dozens of other movies and television shows.

In a telephone interview last week, Glover said he plans to talk about something he thinks is more important: the need for sustainable activism on issues such as human rights, economic and social justice, the environment and militarism.

In other words, many of the same issues King was focused on at the end of his life.

“When we think about Dr. King, we see him often in the context of the March on Washington (“I Have A Dream”) speech of August 1963,” Glover said. “He wasn’t just about ideas of integration and inclusiveness, but change itself. When I talk about Dr. King, I also want to place him within the context of today.”

Glover said the King speech that resonates most with him was delivered April 4, 1967, a year before his assassination. It was titled: “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.” In it, King lamented how the Vietnam War was eviscerating domestic efforts to fight poverty and increase social justice.

And he said the title of King’s 1967 book — Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? — remains as important a question now as it was a half-century ago.

Glover speaks at 11 a.m. in Heritage Hall following the 10 a.m. Freedom March around downtown and the Alpha Phi Alpha Unity Breakfast. The breakfast is sold-out, but the march and Glover’s speech are free and open to the public.

The night before, the Rev. Joseph A. Darby will speak at the 26th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Worship Service, 6 p.m. Sunday at Central Christian Church. Darby is presiding elder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church district in South Carolina that includes Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, where nine black worshipers were gunned down by a young racist last June.

Chester and Ann Grundy have organized Lexington’s King Day program for more than four decades, bringing in big-name speakers such as Coretta Scott King, poet Maya Angelou, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and author Alex Haley.

Chester Grundy said Glover agreed to come to Lexington this year mainly as a favor to their mutual friend, writer and publisher Haki Madhubuti. He wouldn’t disclose Glover’s speaking fee, but he said it was much less than usual.

When I talk about Dr. King, I also want to place him within the context of today.

Danny Glover, actor and activist

Glover, 69, has appeared in dozens of television shows and movies, also including Silverado, Predator 2 and Angels in the Outfield. But long before he was an actor, he was a social activist, something that has continued throughout his career.

Glover was born in San Francisco in 1946. Two years later, the federal work force was desegregated and his parents, James and Carrie Glover, got jobs with the U.S. Postal Service. His father was a World War II veteran; his mother had come from Georgia for a better life. Both became active in the NAACP and the American Postal Workers Union.

As a 22-year-old student, Glover participated in a five-month protest that resulted in San Francisco State University creating the nation’s first school of black and ethnic studies. He worked six years in San Francisco’s community development office before becoming a successful actor.

When he isn’t reading scripts, Glover said he reads books about history and current affairs. Among his recent favorites: journalist Douglas Blackmon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II; Edward Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism; and Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

“The fascinating thing about all three of these books is the empirical data that show what actually happened,” Glover said. “That’s the kind of narrative that often was not provided by those who were the stewards of American history. But King understood that narrative.”

Among the issues that most concern Glover is economic justice and growing wealth inequality. Glover said he now lives in a house he bought in 1975 while working for the city— a place that would now be unaffordable for most people to buy.

“It’s impossible for working people to live in San Francisco now,” he said. “People are being forced out of the city. These are issues that people are going to have to contend with.”

Glover said he hopes economic justice and mass incarceration will become bigger issues in this year’s presidential campaign.

“So far it’s been mostly about personalities, the cult of personality,” he said. “How do we now talk about real issues?”

If you go

Commemorative Program featuring Danny Glover. 11 a.m. Jan. 18. Lexington Convention Center Heritage Hall, 430 W. Vine St., Lexington. Free. www.uky.edu/mlk.

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