“I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now.”
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., April 3, 1968—the day before his assassination
For 25 years, the Winter Poetry and Prose Getaway has taken place each January over the three-day holiday weekend honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The closing program is always organized by Peter Murphy as a tribute to Dr. King and race unity.
At the 2018 Winter Getaway, Peter chose to share Dr. King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, as well as Robert Kennedy’s statement on Dr. King’s assassination. Winter Getaway participants were moved not only by listening to the speeches, but also Peter’s highlighting of Robert Hayden’s poetry accompanied with these powerful statements.
Participant Evan Yavne, a prose writer from New York, felt compelled to send us this letter after the Getaway, and we’d like to share it with you, Writer.
Thank you, Evan.
— The Murphy Writing Team
Open Letter, 1/17/18
Each year, the Winter Getaway leaves me feeling elated, productive and uplifted. But, two days back into the real world after my fifth year in attendance, as I recover from three days of too much food and not enough sleep, it dawns on me that a significant contributor to this feeling of elation is the beauty and relevance of the weekend’s closing ceremony.
Every year, Peter Murphy orchestrates a powerful montage of images and writings that do more than commemorate the incredible work of the pillars of the civil rights movement, more than illustrate the power of the voices and the lives that have stood up and fought for race equality both globally and domestically.
Each year, the celebration seems more powerful than the last, reminding each of us how powerful words are, and how powerful our voices can be.
Every year has been distinct and essential in its own ways, always stirring and rousing the emotions of those people in attendance, but this year was different.
This year we listened to and watched a video of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. giving his prophetic last speech, stating that his own longevity was in jeopardy, but it was, in his eyes, a worthy sacrifice if it furthered the cause of racial justice. And as we read the eternal truths as described by poet Robert Hayden, in his poem about Frederick Douglass, all of us were more dramatically shaken, I’m certain, than in any previous year, though many of the words, images, and sentiments were repeated.
This year, as we watched, in heart-broken silence, Robert F. Kennedy sharing the pain and compassionately delivering the news that Martin Luther King, Jr., had been assassinated, our whole happy group, I think, retreated to their own private sorrows more palpably than in any previous year.
For me, though I knew the history and had read the words before, my sadness, more than ever before, was accompanied by a fear that, for the first few moments, was truly overwhelming. As I fought back my own tears, I watched around the room as men and women, young and old, fought back their own, with varying degrees of success.
I realized, in that moment, that while the program closely resembled those of previous years, this year, the world had changed.
This year, the hard-fought progress that MLK and RFK and all of the others have died for has slipped backward, and is sliding at a terrorizing rate. I was scared, and I was not alone. We were, and are, all afraid because the hatred is back and the abuses are being normalized on a daily basis, but this time, MLK and RFK are not here to help us. They are gone, gunned down for trying, and we are on our own.
But then it hit me. The beautiful men and women we commemorate at these special ceremonies are gone, but we are not alone. We have Peter Murphy, who has devoted his life to worshiping and teaching the power of words. More accurately, he has devoted his life and invested himself in helping us and countless others find our voices. And he is not the only one. There are others peppered throughout our overbearing species, and they are marching and walking, writing and singing their lungs out to keep those studied voices present in our hearts, their words strong in our minds to regain the lost ground and to keep pushing forward.
We don’t have time to let fear muffle our voices. We have our words, all the best words, but most importantly, we have our voices and we are not alone. We have Peter Murphy.