Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Urban League Celebrates Centennial Speakers at Rousing Worship Service Push Renewed Civil Rights Activism

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Urban League Celebrates Centennial Speakers at Rousing Worship Service Push Renewed Civil Rights Activism

Article excerpt

With pulsing gospel music, festive dance and a soaring call-and-response sermon that packed in a call to renewed social activism, the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh marked its 100th anniversary year in a gathering that drew several hundred to Central Baptist Church in the Hill District.

The league - which aims to empower African-Americans through such areas as education, economic development, health care and civil rights - held its celebration in a worship service to salute the strong historic connection between the organization and the black church.

The Urban League Youth Choir set the tone early with rousing gospel pieces, accompanied by worship dancers in the aisle, that often brought the congregation to its feet.

The keynote speaker, Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie, raised the octane level further with a rapid-delivery sermon that drew on a lesser-known passage from Genesis. It tells of how the biblical patriarch Isaac revived old wells that had been dug by his father, Abraham, and also dug new ones as well in the face of repeated opposition from neighbors who were hostile to both father and son.

Bishop McKenzie - who in 2000 became the first woman bishop in the history of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and currently presides over the denomination's Texas churches - said Isaac built on and expanded on his father's legacy. In the same way, people today need to build on the legacy of the Urban League and other forebears in the civil rights movement.

It will not be easy, she said, warning of current attempts to roll back the gains of that movement.

"Just like Isaac, we may have to fight our mother's and father's enemies all over again," she said, each sentence punctuated by organ riffs and amens. "They will come back in a new 21st-century way. We may have to fight for things we are taking for granted - again. We may have to fight for the right to vote - again. .We may have to fight residual racism, sexism, ageism and classism - again. We may have to sit in again. We may have to march again. We may have to demonstrate again."

But she urged worshippers to take heart from the work of their forebears. …

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