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Former Freedom Rider and WVU African Drum Ensemble to headline celebration of Martin Luther King Day


(photo available: West Virginia University’s African Drum Ensemble 900K jpg)

As part of the observance of the national Martin Luther King Day holiday, the Martin Luther King Jr. West Virginia Holiday Commission and the West Virginia Division of Culture and History will sponsor a gala this weekend featuring Greenbrier County resident and former Freedom Rider Joan C. Browning as keynote speaker as well as performances by West Virginia University’s African Drum Ensemble and the Bob Thompson Unit. The program begins at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 13, in the West Virginia State Theater of the Cultural Center in the State Capitol Complex. Admission to the gala is free on a first-come, first-seated basis.

Browning, who is white, grew up picking cotton on a small farm in rural southern Georgia. She became involved with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1961 and was one of nine Albany Freedom Riders on Dec. 10, 1961. She worked in human relations and anti-poverty programs throughout the 1960s and helped organize the Federation of Southern Cooperatives. She has worked for the Southern Regional Council, American Civil Liberties Union, the National Urban League, the American Friends Service Committee and VISTA. Now a free-lance writer, she travels the lecture circuit, using her personal experiences to discuss race, class, gender, and the history of the South and the civil rights movement. Browning’s jail notes and her other papers from the freedom movement are in the African-American collection of Emory University’s Robert Woodruff Library Special Collections Department.

Browning’s talk will be followed by a series of dramatic monologues—“Reflections on the Dream”—presented by Rev. Ronald English, Rev. Emerson Wood, Rev. E. Alphonso Heyliger and Secretary of State Ken Hechler, all of Charleston. The monologues will be interspersed with performances by the West Virginia University African Drum Ensemble, The Greenbrier East Dance Theater, West Virginia State College Mass Choir, Capital High School Dance Company and writer Colleen Anderson. A short concert by the Bob Thompson Unit will round out the evening. A reception in the Cultural Center’s Great Hall will follow the program.

Other Martin Luther King Day activities planned by the Commission and the Division include an ecumenical service to be held in conjunction with the inauguration of West Virginia Governor-Elect Bob Wise. The program of tribute to and remembrance of King is open to the public and will begin at 8:30 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 15, at Asbury United Methodist Church, 501 Elizabeth St., Charleston. The symbolic ringing of the state’s Liberty Bell, held annually on Martin Luther King Day, will take place at 12:20 p.m. on the steps of the north face of the Capitol as part of the inauguration ceremony.

The national Martin Luther King Day holiday was designated by the U.S. Congress in 1983. It is observed on the third Monday in January, falling on or near King’s Jan. 15 birthday.

For more information about the state’s Martin Luther King Day holiday activities, call the Division at (304) 558-0220 or visit the West Virginia Library Commission’s website at

The West Virginia Division of Culture and History, an agency of the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts, brings together the state’s past, present and future through programs and services in the areas of archives and history, the arts, historic preservation and museums. The Cultural Center is West Virginia’s official showcase for the arts. Visit the Division’s website at for more information about programs of the Division. The Division of Culture and History is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer.

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