Jan. 18, 2005

Out of the Darkness

Out of the Darkness
By BOB HERBERT

Published: January 17, 2005

Columnist Page: Bob Herbert

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Atlanta — You could get dizzy thinking about the history that has passed in and out of Ebenezer Baptist Church, which was the spiritual home (and primary safe house) of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement of the 1950's and 60's. There's now a spiffy new church right across the street, but the memories of the battles fought and the freedom gained in that tumultuous period live on in the old building, with its narrow stairways and creaking floors, and the basement where so many strategy sessions were held.

On Friday night I had the privilege of joining the actors Martin Sheen, Lynn Redgrave, Alfre Woodard, Sean Penn, Woody Harrelson and others in a reading at the old church of Ariel Dorfman's play "Speak Truth to Power: Voices From Beyond the Dark," which is based on the book "Speak Truth to Power," by Kerry Kennedy and the photographer Eddie Adams. The occasion marked the 76th anniversary of Dr. King's birth (he was only 39 when he was killed) and the 40th anniversary of his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize. Among those in the audience was Dr. King's widow, Coretta.

Excerpt: Both the play and the book are made up of passages from interviews of men and women who, in a wide variety of ways, defended human rights in countries that span the globe. Dianna Ortiz is an Ursuline nun from New Mexico who went to Guatemala in the 1980's as a missionary. She was abducted, gang raped and tortured by government agents. She said one of the men overseeing the torture appeared to be American. At one point she was lowered into a pit filled with the bodies of men, women and children who had been murdered. "To this day," said Sister Ortiz, "I can smell the decomposing of bodies disposed of in an open pit. I can hear the piercing screams of other people being tortured."

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