Dr. Jonathan Overby has been involved, in some capacity, with all 39
King Holiday Tribute & Ceremony observances at the State Capitol.
|State of Wisconsin’s 39th Annual King Holiday
Tribute & Ceremony
A Womanist Civil Rights Perspective
women have made.
“By design, the 2019 event will have a womanist framing represented by a diverse collective of women from various backgrounds in recognition of the historical
role of women as pioneers, change makers and innovators in every field of today’s world and as leaders and champions of a better tomorrow, not just for some, but
for all,” Dr. Jonathan Overby, the producer of the event said.
Overby emphasized that that the term womanist is used because the term feminist doesn’t reflect the breadth of roles of women in the African American community
and society at large.
“I use the word womanist,” Overby said. “It’s a very Afro-centric term because the feminist movement left women of color, by and large. So we use the womanist
movement, which I think is a more appropriate word than feminist. I think womanist refers to so many things that you can embrace out of that.”
Most people readily know the name Mahalia Jackson, the great gospel singer. But few know of her contribution to the movement outside of singing performances at
some movement rallies and marches.
“There were women who were heroines of the civil rights movement like Mahalia Jackson,” Overby said. “People don’t give her a lot of credit. She gave a lot of
money to Dr. King to further what he did. She was a real benefactor. She never received the proper mention that she deserved. There were people who were
marginally involved in the civil rights movement and you just don’t know them. I’ve always tried to bring women. I’ve invited women to come tell their stories as a
part of this narrative deliberately. They haven’t been women who are necessarily well-known. I brought in speakers whom people have never heard of before. That
is intentional so that we get a sense of both the dynamics of the experience and the old pioneers, some of the marchers who were actually in the trenches as well
as having those who have a more modernistic view of where we need to go, people who have spoken about prison reform, who have talked about the values of
just getting along with people, people telling their own stories of how they struggled to get where they ended up landing.”
Women will be taking center stage at this year’s event. There will be a women’s mass choir as the main performance group this year.
“There’s a women’s mass choir put together by the chair of the planning committee, Debbie Biddle,” Overby said. “The women are from all over Dane County. Some
even come from Milwaukee. Tamara Stanley will be conducting them. The vast majority of the dais guests will be women as well.”
The keynote speaker this year is Rita Coburn, an Emmy and Peabody Award winner from Chicago.
“She has spent four decades in radio, television and film,” Overby said. “She produced for Oprah Winfrey and other people. She’s done some documentaries. I can’t
explain how I learned of her. I was just searching. She’s out of Chicago. There is nothing profound except sometimes you dig around and you find things you weren’t
expecting. I saw her name. I listened to her lecture. And when I heard her speak, I thought, ‘She’s right out of the Oprah school of Oratory. I was really attracted to
her message. And in talking with her, she is absolutely a brilliant and insightful scholar and artist, creator and storyteller who in some ways, sounds like Oprah
Winfrey. There is something that is very commanding about her.”
There will also be a new spin on the traditional reading of Dr. King’s I Have a Dream Speech by a student.
By Jonathan Gramling
There is the cliché that behind every successful man there is a good woman. That could
certainly be said of the major civil rights leaders in the modern Civil Rights Movement.
What would Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. have accomplished without Coretta Scott King: her
support, her perspectives and keeping Dr. King’s base strong?
There are also other women who have accomplished much in their own right. Who ever
heard of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson — three female
mathematicians who were vital to the success of America’s first space missions —
before the movie Hidden Voices made their contributions known? Women have been
making vital contributions in every endeavor throughout human history.
In recognition of these contributions, the State of Wisconsin’s 39th Annual King Tribute &
Ceremony in the State Capitol on January 21st will be about the contributions that
“We have three students from James C. Wright Middle School,” Overby
said. “I have created an adaptation of Dr. King’s I Have a Dream speech
for spoken word. They are three young girls.”
Rounding out this year’s program is Governor Tony Earl presenting the
Wisconsin proclamation and awarding the King Heritage Awards and
performances by The Victory Travelers Gospel Quartet and Highland
The State King Holiday Tribute & Ceremony, emceed by Dr. Jonathan
Overby, is always a meaningful and entertaining event. It starts at noon
in the State Capitol Rotunda, but if you want a good seat — or view —
you’ve got to come early. You will feel the spirit of the King Holiday.