Vassar Celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Vassar honored the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the slain civil rights leader’s birthday with a campus gathering that highlighted the value of community and history as guideposts in the struggles to achieve social justice. Vassar President Elizabeth Bradley, along with Deputy to the President Wesley Dixon and Associate Dean Wendy Maragh Taylor, welcomed Poughkeepsie Mayor Yvonne Flowers, Poughkeepsie Town Supervisor Rebecca Edwards, and other speakers to reflect on how the College and its neighbors can work together to uplift all.

Statue in honor of Martin Luther King in Washington DC
Photo: Shutterstock

“Part of what Vassar is trying to do is really be part of this community of Poughkeepsie,” noted Bradley, “and feel as if we are contributing and also learning from people in the community how Vassar can be even more of a partner.”  She also highlighted how important it is for people in public office to “use one’s political power for good” and said, “We have some amazing people in political power right here in this room.” With that, she introduced Flowers and Edwards—on leave from her position as Vassar Professor of History on the Eloise Ellery Chair—who were greeted with enthusiastic applause and cheers from the 100-plus attendees.

President Bradley posing with Ryan Sharpe, Lisa Kaul, Dutchess, Yvonne Flowers, Rebecca Edwards, and Barbara Laird.
President Bradley welcomed elected officials (left to right) Ryan Sharpe, Town of Poughkeepsie Board Member; Lisa Kaul, Dutchess County Legislator and former Vassar administrator; Yvonne Flowers, Mayor of the City of Poughkeepsie; Rebecca Edwards, Town of Poughkeepsie Supervisor and Professor (on leave) of History on the Eloise Ellery Chair; and Barbara Laird, Town of Poughkeepsie Board Member. Photo: Kelly Marsh

Flowers, who began her historic tenure as the city’s first Black mayor just two weeks ago, delved into her own personal history as the daughter of a tireless community activist, John Flowers who, inspired by King’s message “to lead with love,” worked to bring people together to serve the Poughkeepsie community. “My dad knew that unity and love spurred positive change, and he was going to do everything in his power to help provide a space that fostered and promoted unity,” she said. Her voice breaking at times, Flowers vowed to carry on her father’s legacy. “Let’s continue to work together to truly make a difference,” she said.

Following Flowers, Taharqa O. Ramses, Associate Director of the Poughkeepsie community-based residential program Exodus Transitional Community, spoke of the importance of centering voices of marginalized and oppressed people in efforts to dismantle structural racism and create opportunity—“the voices of those who know what they need best.” Said Ramses, “Many times, we do not listen; we do not hear what they say.”

Mareme Fall ’25 sang “Summertime” at Vassar College's MLK community gathering.
Mareme Fall ’25 sang “Summertime” at the event. Photo: Kelly Marsh

After a beautiful rendition of “Summertime,” sung by student Mareme Fall ’25, Edwards—ever the history professor—took the podium to put the work of King and fellow civil rights activists of the 1960s in historical context, beginning with the immediate aftermath of the Civil War and the beginnings of the Jim Crow era “whose legacy we still feel.” Yet through it all, countless protesters were laying the groundwork for the Civil Rights Movement later led by King and his contemporaries, Edwards said. “We are now, I think, in one of those dark and difficult moments that Rev. Dr. King might call a ‘moral midnight,’ that we may lose hope and we may have difficulty seeing what the way forward may be,” she said. “I want to affirm that in that darkest era, in that period where many people lost hope, the foundations of modern mass protests were born.” King, said Edwards, “had hope because his elders had sustained it under perhaps even grimmer and more difficult conditions than he himself faced.”

Croix Horsely ’26 speaking at Vassar College's MLK community gathering.
Croix Horsely ’26 spoke about King’s mentor Howard Thurman and the complexities of Vassar’s history regarding progressivism and race.  Photo: Kelly Marsh

The gathering concluded with a reflection by student Croix Horsely ’26, who spoke about King’s mentor Howard Thurman and the complexities of Vassar’s history regarding progressivism and race, and Associate Dean Rev. Sam Speers, who offered a prayer for “a war-less world, a better distribution of wealth, for a brotherhood and sisterhood that transcends race or color.”

View a Flickr gallery of images from the event.

January 19, 2024
Campus Initiatives