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What’s likely to be the most expansive and ecumenical celebration in Europe of the life of Martin Luther King Jr. — bringing together gospel choirs, opera singers, ministers, military officers and mayors — is set for Saturday at a Heidelberg church.

The public is invited to the free event, the 22nd of its kind, at 5 p.m. at the Christuskirche (Christ Church), Zaehringerstrasse 30, in Heidelberg’s Weststadt.

The evening is sponsored by the Rhein-Neckar branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, in conjunction with the German-American Institute.

The theme of this year’s event will be “Globalizing the Dream and Legacy” of King, the civil right leader and pacifist.

The keynote speaker will be a former King intimate, the Rev. Harcourt Klinefelter, a Mennonite minister who was with King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference until after King was assassinated in 1968.

“Since I knew Dr. King personally, I wanted to say things that are personal,” said Klinefelter in a phone interview from his home in Holland. “His private life in my eyes was in many ways just as impressive as his public life. He treated the garbage collector in the same way he treated the mayor.”

Klinefelter was studying theology at Yale University in 1965 when he felt compelled to go down South and work with King. Among his other duties with the SCLC, he edited King’s sermons and speeches for radio, learning most of them by heart, he said.

He also ate dinner with the King family twice, he said, in the sparsely furnished King home decorated with a Nobel Peace Prize and a statue of Gandhi.

“He lived in the ghetto because, he said, he wanted to be reminded every day of whom he worked for,” Klinfelter said.

“The main thing I wanted to say — a whole lot of people will be using Dr. King’s name to hitch to their political wagons,” Klinefelter said.

But not only did King give one of the most famous speeches ever and worked to end segregation in the South, his “message of nonviolent and social change has been applied throughout the world,” Klinefelter said.

King’s message, he said, is a global one.

“He said, ‘We need to live together as brothers and sisters or we shall perish together as fools.’”

The NAACP branch’s military membership is about 50 percent, and this year the Mark Twain Village Gospel Choir will provide spiritual and gospel music for the program. Hugh Egerton — a former director of the 7th Army Choir now an opera singer at the Mannheim National Theater — will be the soloist, according to an NAACP news release. Additionally, Maj. Sid Taylor, a Heidelberg chaplain, will lead the invocation.

Other guests scheduled are Heidelberg’s Lord Mayor, Eckart Würzner, and Col. Robert Ulses, U.S. Army Garrison Heidelberg commander.

The German speaker for the evening program, Rev. Wolfgang Kraus, is a friend and colleague of Klinefelter. They both work in the anti-violence and conflict resolution movements in Europe.

After the program, there will be a reception featuring fellowship and wine and cheese.

For more information, contact Aubrey McCaster, a local NAACP official, at 06205-289970.

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
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