NORFOLK, Va. — Norfolk’s Public Library’s Horace C. Downing branch honored the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a program on African-American spirituals and how the songs were intertwined with the civil rights movement.

North Carolina native, Calvin Earl led the program. He’s a nationally renowned musician known for his African-American spirituals, and his successful lobby of Congress to recognize them as a national treasure. He performed a selection of songs that date back to slavery and explained how these gospels became freedom songs during the civil rights moment in the 1950s and 1960s.

“I shall not be moved – talking about Dr. King,” he explained to the audience.

“When you look at your opponent, your aggressor in the face with love – you’re going to get it back, sooner or later.”

Audience members were encouraged to sing along.

Earl paid homage to one of the most tumultuous but critical movements in U.S. history: a decades-long struggle to end legalized racial discrimination.

The library’s youth associate Carolyn Miller said the performance is meant to demonstrate how African American spirituals transformed into songs with the civil rights movement, and how Dr. King’s message of equality Is still relevant today.

“We’re still having turmoil in the world,” Miller said.

“[Earl] explained how important the music was, even from the time of slavery on up to modern-day civil rights movement with Martin Luther King Jr.”

She said she hopes Dr. King’s legacy will continue to inspire future generations.

“I encourage the kids to have dreams and turn those dreams into something positive and something they can use and carry on in their legacy,” she said.

Author: Dana Smith
Published: 1:24 PM EST January 19, 2020
Updated: 7:47 PM EST January 19, 2020

Norfolk library celebrates Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with program on African-American spirituals, civil rights movement

I most enjoyed the combination of historical content as it relates to spirituals…would love to attend a full course on relationship of spirituals to Underground Railroad ….very relevant to my work as historian, educator an docent…positive learning experience

I very much appreciate the honor brought to the table to recognize the importance and cultural value in planning and presenting this program.

I liked Calvin Earl’s performing the songs. His first presenting the background of a song for better understanding, but the performance was the crown jewel.

Thank you so much for bringing Mr. Earl to the library. An awesome evening of learning and enjoyment!

Alexandria, VA Public Library audience reviews 2019

“Your talents have brought exposure and life to America’s first true art form. It is our social responsibility to preserve the culture that our forefathers died for. W. E B. Debois stated so poignantly about this music: (‘it still remains the singular spiritual heritage of the nation and the greatest gift of the Negro people’). Know that you are an important resource. Keep up the good work.”

Dr. Dorothy I. Height, Chair & President Emerita National Council Negro Women

“I am glad you are receiving such a positive response to your “Spirit Behind The Spirituals” presentation. This is essential, historical and cultural information which should be part of every school curriculum. Since it is not, you are performing an essential public service. I am glad you are trying to bring about a better understanding of this important part of American history. Keep up the good work.”

Dr Billy Taylor

“The information that you share about the spiritual power of the enslaved Africans in the United States is vitally important for all of us to hear, children and adults alike. Know that you are an important educational resource.”

Dr Lorraine Monroe, SLA School Leadership Academy founder and executive director NYC

“Mr Earl embodies the qualities of a cultural ambassador who is able to bring the Significance of his artistic tradition to all the people of this nation and beyond our frontiers. He’s strength lies in his ability to communicate and build a strong rapport with the students around mutual respect. It is especially touching when the children performed alongside Calvin for their own parents and grandparents. Communal sense of sharing came alive and made us feel part of an extended community.”

Jorge Fernandez, Principal NJ

“While it has been my great fortune to witness the benefits that Calvin Earl’s message has brought to the New York City community, the nation as a whole needs to hear what he has to say. Calvin teaches the American history you cannot find in textbooks. He teaches of the beauty that arose out of blood, sweat and tears that went into the building of this nation. He allows a glimpse into a secret language of the past – one that he believes has been hidden from the public, yet in front of our eyes all along. A talented musician, angelic singer and passionate storyteller, Calvin Earl is a messenger of history.”

Rebecca Segal, Director of Theater Programs, Community Works New York City

“No one who meets Calvin Earl remains untouched by his generosity as a performer and educator, and his authenticity as a cultural activist. I give him my highest recommendation as an educational performer for your institution.”

Sandy Martiny, Curator of Education Jersey City Museum

“The generosity of your spirit, of your stories, and of your time were greatly appreciated by myself and by the audience present. Thank you for such a unique experience. On behalf of the entire staff of Lincoln Center Festival, thank you for helping to make this year one of the most successful Festival Symposia Series yet.”

Tessa Leigh Derfner, Company Manager and Symposia Coordinator Lincoln Center Festival 99 NYC

“Your presentation meant a great deal to us and moved a great many students, staff and faculty. It was an honor to have you share your history, artistry and music with us that day. We were delighted to hear from the attendees from President Sbrega to the newest members of the UB Program that you were the most engaging, enlightening and entertaining presentation on campus in some time.”

Sarah Morrell, Director Upward Bound Program Bristol Community College

“Calvin’s warmth, wisdom, and mastery as a performing artist are nothing short of phenomenal. He left me feeling free, aware and inspired.”

Craig Werth, Associate Director UNH Student Support Services

“When I heard your presentation at last year’s City-wide Project ARTS Coordinators NYC meeting, I was very moved and inspired. Your historical/spiritual approach not only informs children about heritage, but empowers them to go forth with their personal lives. Your choice of materials and your own positive spirit and presentation make your work a valuable medium for classroom instruction.”

Howard M. Katzoff, Projects ARTS NYC

“A multitude of thanks for the amazing event last night. Your musical and storytelling talents, passion, humor and very personal, very profound sense of what is important – in history, heart and action – is entertaining, motivating and inspirational. As I said last night, your presentation, words and music should be in every school, not only here, but thought the nation. Your gift to every young person is the possibility of pride and accomplishment.”

Peggy Harrington, Director Arts Culture and the Sacred, The Interfaith Center of NY

“Calvin Earl’s workshop was a delightful, informing experience combining music, history, story-telling and audience participation. Calvin is a gifted facilitator and performer whose optimism and genuineness affirm the best of the human spirit.”

Len Lamberti, Director UNH Center for Academic Resources

“I wanted to thank you on behalf of the NYHQ Child Life program for donating your time and amazing voice to our pediatric unit. They really enjoyed hearing you sing. Your voice is truly magical. Our parents expressed to me how much they enjoyed it. As you know, children need distractions while they are in the hospital, especially during the holiday season and you were able to provide that for them.”

Alisha Rapport, Child Life Coordinator, New York Hospital Medical Center of Queens, Department of Pediatrics

“The staff and children of the Police Athletic League Harlem Center would like to express our warm heartfelt thank you for your spectacular performance given in honor of our children. We at the Harlem Center want you to know that we very much appreciate the time and effort you have taken out of your very busy schedule to put on such a terrific event for our children.”

Ms. Staci Johnson & P.A.L Harlem Staff, Police Athletic League, INC

“On behalf of the faculty and staff here at Sisulu Children’s Academy, I thank you for taking the time to share your talents with our students. Mr. Earl your musical presentation along with the storytelling captivated the students’ attention and interest. I am certain our children will forever cherish the time you spent with them. Please accept our deepest gratitude.”

Berthe G. Faustin Principal Sisulu Children’s Academy

“With Mr Earl’s help I’ve learned America’s first original art form. It showed me to appreciate my culture and help my fellow classmates to comprehend the issues addressed. I feel Mr. Earl had been credited for his new approach, but I don’t think he has been given credibility for the new found racial understanding kids, young adults, men and women receive when they are exposed to such positive actions made by Mr Earl. I’ve found that his talent and accredited “diversity program”, has shed light on the “elements of peace”

Ebony H., High School Student NYC

“Many thanx for coming in yesterday. It was awesome and inspiring. I knew very little about Harriet Tubman, but after your show I had many revelations. I thank you for your amazing music and hope you do this ‘till your dying breath.”

Antoine D., High School Student NYC

“I would like to thank you for coming to our school and reminding us of our rich past. The accomplishments of the former slaves really display the power of the human spirit and I’m definitely proud that their blood is in me.”

Garner D., High School Student NYC