A Flag for Martin Luther King
BY SUSANNA SPENCER
4 MIN. READ
Mr. Everett Humphrey ’59, an AU (Anderson College) alumnus and university donor, recently acquired the American flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol Building on April 4, 1968, the day Dr. King was assassinated.
According to Humphrey, this one-of-a-kind flag serves as a “witness” to the assassination — “one of the greatest tragedies of the twentieth century.”
To honor Dr. King, the flag was raised over the Capitol that day at the request of New York Congressman Henry P. Smith III. Afterward, Smith arranged for the flag to be flown over the cemetery in Pekin, New York. Pekin had once been a prominent stop on the Underground Railroad for slaves trying to reach Canada, adding to the rich history of this particular flag.
Included with Humphrey’s donation is the flag’s original transmittal letter, signed by the Architect of the Capitol at the time, J. George Stewart, certifying that the flag was flown on April 4, 1968.
A collector of many rare and historical finds, like the flag, Humphrey has so far donated more than 100 items to Anderson University, all for the purpose of educating students about world history and its important lessons.
“It is my aim that when students view an item, it will stimulate an interest to further study,” said Humphrey. “We can learn important lessons from the past; however, if we do not learn from the mistakes we’ve made, they will only be made again.”
Humphrey feels that having the flag at AU creates a strong tie to Dr. King, and strengthens the university’s dedication to racial equality. He also hopes it will serve as a reminder of all Dr. King fought for, as well as how he fought for it.
“Martin Luther King Jr. was dedicated to social justice and social change by peaceful means only,” Humphrey said. “Violence and hatred were never a part of his language or his actions. He knew that he would be subjected to unfair treatment because of his beliefs, but for him, retaliation was never an option.”
“Martin Luther King, Jr. is a significant example of a man who adopted a Christ-centered stance for social justice for Black America,” said AU marketing faculty Dr. Ray Sylvester, who serves as a representative of the university’s MOSAIC Initiative to build an interculturally responsive campus. “At AU, we recognize his sacrifice, and continue to recognize the work required to fulfill ‘the dream.’”
Part of that work is acknowledging that the dream still matters today. For the AU community, an MLK Day Peace and Justice March is held annually in the city of Anderson, Indiana, in efforts to remember Dr. King and all that he accomplished. Even with the global COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s event still took place, though at a distance, with the collective goal of walking “One Million Steps for Martin” as a community of Ravens around the world. The event was centered around the theme, “Awaken the Dream,” inspired by one of Dr. King’s speeches, “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.”
Dr. Joel Shrock, AU’s provost and dean of the School of Humanities and Behavioral Science, shared that the flag transports him back in time to the events of the 1960s.
“The African American Civil Rights Movement had been gaining momentum for the entire twentieth century, and had many significant successes, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965,” Dr. Shrock said. “The murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stunned the movement and our entire nation. From then on, Americans would never be the same.”
Dr. Jaye Rogers, professor of history and chair of the Department of History and Political Science at AU, received the flag from Humphrey on behalf of the department, where it is now on display along with many other historical finds Humphrey has donated.
Dr. Rogers is grateful that the flag was gifted to the university with its students in mind.
“A history professor is charged with the task of helping students see Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others as real figures — people who had jobs and families and frustrations and visions for a better, more equitable world,” said Dr. Rogers.
“Still, historians do their work with the help of many others,” she continued. “Someone believed that Dr. King’s efforts mattered and made the decision, when he was assassinated, to fly that flag over the Capitol. Others, for more than five decades, made sure to preserve the flag so that it would not fall apart. Mr. Humphrey has made the decision to purchase many artifacts, like this flag, and donate them to Anderson University to enhance our classroom learning — allowing students to see and touch a unique piece of our nation’s history. Our students, like the hundreds of others who have been a part of this flag’s journey, will become part of its story.”
While Dr. King’s legacy has certainly forged a powerful way forward, AU recognizes that there is still work to be done to achieve equity for historically marginalized groups.
Humphrey hopes that the flag will encourage students to press forward in this work, and in the face of obstacles that may, at times, seem insurmountable. “Following your dream may have a heavy cost,” he shared, “but that should not deter you from a goal that is worthwhile.”
Anderson University is on a mission to educate students for lives of faith and service, offering more than 60 undergraduate majors, 30 three-year degrees, 20 NCAA Division III intercollegiate sports, alongside adult and graduate programs. The private, liberal arts institution is fully accredited and recognized among top colleges for its business, computer science, cybersecurity, dance, engineering, nursing, and teacher education programs. Anderson University was established in 1917 in Anderson, Indiana, by the Church of God.