“As I began doing the research for this email and was reading the speeches of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I had no idea that the events – the breach of our national Capitol building on January 6th would occur. As the news broke on January 6th I was shaken and I was horrified. There are multiple reasons that we. as a nation, got to this terrible moment. My question to myself and to you is “what do we do next”? As I turned back to Dr. King, I read about his vision of building a Beloved Community and found some hope.”
These words were written by a friend of mine and found their way to me via another friend. I identified with these feelings of being shaken and horrified, and I was sure I needed a good dose of hope. What better way to honor Dr. King on MLK Day in 2021 than returning to his own words. For example, he wrote the following in his Nonviolence: The Only Road to Freedom essay on May 4, 1966.
“I must continue by faith or it is too great a burden to bear and violence, even in self-defense, creates more problems than it solves. Only a refusal to hate or kill can put an end to the chain of violence in the world and lead us toward a community where men can live together without fear. Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives…The American racial revolution has been a revolution to “get in” rather than to overthrow. We want to share in the American economy, the housing market, the educational system and the social opportunities. The goal itself indicates that a social change in America must be nonviolent.
If one is in search of a better job, it does not help to burn down the factory. If one needs more adequate education, shooting the principal will not help, or if housing is the goal, only building and construction will produce that end. To destroy anything, person or property, can’t bring us closer to the goal that we seek. The nonviolent strategy has been to dramatize the evils of our society in such a way that pressure is brought to bear against those evils by the forces of good will in the community and change is produced…”
To me, as my mother used to say when she was about to make a proclamation on a controversial topic, the people involved in the attack on our nation’s Capitol weren’t interested in a beloved community. I’m not sure if the insurrectionists who participated in this violent revolution had a vision of any community.
How long had it been since I read Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous letter penned from a Birmingham jail on April 16, 1963, five days before my seventeenth birthday – finishing my junior year in a totally white high school in a still very much segregated Texas Gulf Coast town, vaguely aware of the Civil Rights Movement and one of its principal leaders – probably consumed by my hormones that created crushes on girls unaware of my attention as I was unaware of a black minister imprisoned in Birmingham, Alabama who would change the course of American history, a minister now recognized with a National Holiday every third Monday in January since 1983.
“But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the
outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America’s destiny. Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here. For more than two centuries our forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation -and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands.”
My thanks to my friend whose words encouraged me to take a fresh look at the writings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Nobel Prize for Peace winner at the age of 35 in October, 1964 – four years before he was assassinated while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee on April 04, 1968 by a man described as a white supporter of segregationist Alabama governor George Wallace.
Reading Dr. King’s essays bring me comfort and hope, too. I encourage each of my cyberspace friends to google his essays and read them in their entirety.
In May, 2018 Pretty and I met our Texas sisters Leora and Carmen in Louisiana to spend a few days on Pretty’s guided tour of the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama. In addition to great barbecue and fun times playing cards at night, we went to the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church in Montgomery.
We squeezed in under the wire for the last tour of the day for the church following our visit to The Legacy Museum that morning. The church was rich in history but was usually identified by its connection to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who was its pastor from 1954 – 1960. The meeting to launch the Montgomery Bus Boycott was held in the basement of the church on December 2, 1956.
What an incredible experience we all had with our tour guide Wanda – her joy in sharing the history of the church was infectious…her storytelling made the history come alive. She provided opportunities for our personal interactions within the sacred surroundings. One moment from the church basement tour stood out to me as I settled into my thoughts on a riverboat ride later in the afternoon.
The original lectern Dr. King used in his meetings was still standing in the basement of the church. Wanda allowed each of our small group of six (another married couple from Kansas had joined us) to stand behind that lectern and repeat his words: “How long? Not long.” I put both my hands on the lectern as I repeated the short phrases, how long? not long. I felt a crack in the veil of shame for an entire race that I had worn since The Legacy Museum visit earlier that day. If Dr. King could say “not long,” then surely time was meaningless; redemption was still possible for all who repented. How long? Not long.
I wanted to add “too long.”
This week on January 20, 2021 we will inaugurate a new President Joe Biden and a new Vice President Kamala Harris. I was in the camp advocating a small private ceremony in a basement bunker somewhere – maybe I was the only one in that camp. Pretty being Pretty said ah, ah, no way. We can’t let domestic terrorists steal our celebration, our joy. My Texas sister Leora agreed with Pretty and also reminded me of Dr. King’s Mountaintop speech.
“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like any man I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now…God’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know today that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, today, I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man.”
The Covid pandemic has changed all of our lives in the past year. The political unrest is unnerving, but our struggles are small in comparison to those of a young African American minister who refused to surrender to fear.
Happy Birthday, Dr. King! I will be thinking of you and your legacy of hope for a beloved community in the days to come.
Stay safe, stay sane, and please stay tuned.
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Wowsa, I had forgotten how young MLK was when he died! 39! And how much he had accomplished before then. I love the idea of going back to his words. maybe they can be a little beacon for us all.
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