On this day each year we celebrate the life and considerable contributions to the American society of The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Next year it will be 50 years that we lost this great American pastor, civil rights leader, thought leader, and conscience of the nation.
This year as we celebrate his life and contributions we also think about what he might be preaching in a Sunday sermon, or speaking about in the halls of power, about the state of racial relations.
Could he have imagined the day when an African-American could serve eight years as President of these United States of America? I think so.
Could have imagined the frequent “showdowns” between people of color and police officers? Yes, but judging by his calls for nonviolent protest and for peace and harmony for the nation, he would be greatly disappointed that in some instances we have not moved far from the 1960s…his prime years as the nation’s leading civil rights advocate.
As we await the ceremonies — and protests — scheduled for January 20th in the nation’s capital, I think back to a day in 1963 (August 28) when Dr. King and the era’s civil rights leadership called for a public demonstration and 250,000 people showed up, including many white citizens showing their support.
On the great mall, those gathered heard the “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. They also heard the voices of prominent entertainers, as we are hearing today, in support of the appeal for justice and harmony. (Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, Bob Dylan, now a Nobel Laureate, and Joan Baez, among them).
“Now is the time,” Dr. King proclaimed. Time to make justice reality for all of God’s children. Time to make real the promises of democracy. Time to rise to the solid rock of brotherhood (out of the quicksands of racial injustice).
Across the nation today tens of thousands marched again, in Dr. King’s memory and both mourn his loss and celebrate his life.
May we keep in mind the power of the People when they march for righteous reasons. When they protest against injustice. In March 1965, peaceful marchers going from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, were beaten by troopers and police.
The young civil rights leader and mentee and colleague of Dr.King, John Lewis, now a distinguished Member of the U.S. Congress, among them, still weak from his beating. A week later President Lyndon Johnson announces that his Civil Rights bill is on the way to the Congress. And Federal troops were in Alabama to protect the marchers this time — and 1,000+ clergy flocked to Selma to join the march. And as we said, the courageous young Lewis was back on his feet after his beating by troopers and marching with his brothers and sisters in the call for voting rights..
Today in Miami, Florida, Congressman Lewis delivered a powerful reminiscence of the day he was clubbed on the bridge over the small river at the start of the first march from Selma. He is among those still among us from the early days of the civil rights movement (along with the Reverend Jesse Jackson.)
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The Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr. was the pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1960, his son, The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. joined him as co-pastor. This was his important home pulpit as he traveled the nation and the world (receiving the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts) speaking truth to power.
Congressman John Lewis, representing the great city of Atlanta in the U.S. House of Representatives for many years now, is today a member of that historic church. He remains a greatly-respected civil rights icon. And he is as outspoken today as he was as a teenager in the Deep South questioning the racism of the day.
Love is better than hate was his important message for us today.