“The Arts and Humanities Commission and Donnie McClurkin’s management decided that it would be best for him to withdraw because the purpose of the event is to bring people together,” said Doxie McCoy, a spokeswoman for Gray. “Mayor Gray said the purpose of the event is to promote peace and harmony. That is what King was all about.”
McClurkin disputed that account, saying he was “asked not to attend” the concert. In a lengthy video statement posted online Saturday, McClurkin said Gray “uninvited me from a concert that I was supposed to headline.”
“There should be freedom of speech as long as it’s done in love,” McClurkin said in the video, adding that he believes it is unfortunate that in today’s world, “a black man, a black artist is uninvited from a civil rights movement depicting the love, the unity, the peace, the tolerance.”
In 2002, McClurkin wrote on a Christian Web site that he struggled with homosexuality after he was molested by male relatives when he was 8 and 13. “I’ve been through this and have experienced God’s power to change my lifestyle,” he wrote. “I am delivered and I know God can deliver others, too.”
Phil Pannell, a local gay rights activist and civil rights advocate, said he raised objections with the mayor’s office Friday because he thinks McClurkin’s comments on homosexuality have not been in the spirit of the “beloved community” about which King spoke.
“I take no joy that he is not performing,” Pannell said. “I really admire Donnie McClurkin’s artistry, but this is a situation where a political polemic obscured his artistry.”
But Nolan Williams, the concert’s director, said he would have preferred McClurkin to have performed.
“Even in Tiananmen Square, they were singing ‘We Shall Overcome.’ The fight for human rights is a global fight that has to bring us together,” Williams said. “That has to bring us together whenever there are differences of opinions or differences in views. We still need to find a place to come together even when we don’t agree.”
Saturday’s concert was among a series of events scheduled to take place in Washington through Aug. 28 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, at which King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
During the concert, India’s ambassador to the United States, Nirupama Rao, noted that Bayard Rustin, one of the organizers of the March on Washington, is to be posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. Rustin, who died in 1987, was gay and has been heralded by gay rights activists as a trailblazer for civil rights.
Referring to Rustin and King, Rao said: “All these great personalities came to India and saw the power of Mahatma Gandhi’s message and in turn inspired a young African American leader from the late ’40s of the 20th century to learn about Mahatma Gandhi and take and internalize that philosophy and that creed so that he could lead the African Americans in this country in their struggle for civil rights.”