Martin L. King, Jr. remains frozen in time for many Americans . . . seared into some of our consciousness is the man who battled Southern segregation.
Many see him standing before hundreds of thousands of followers in the nation’s capital in 1963, proclaiming his dream for racial harmony. They see him marching, arms locked with fellow protesters, through the battleground of Alabama in 1965.
But on this 50th anniversary of his death, it is worth noting how his message and his priorities had evolved by the time he was shot on that balcony at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis in 1968. Dr. King was confronting many challenges that still remain with us today.
He was battling racism in the North, too, not just in the South. He was pushing the government to address poverty, income inequality, structural racism, and segregation in cities like Boston and Chicago. He was also calling for an end to a war that was draining the national treasury of funds needed to finance a progressive domestic agenda.
This may not be the Dr. King that many remember, but it is who I remember. His words resonate powerfully – and, perhaps, uncomfortably – today in a country that remains deeply divided on issues of race and class. In spite of that being true, M.L.K. made us think . . . and think about things of which we already knew the answers, the right and wrong of it all. Jesus, long ago, came to dwell amongst men to show us the Father. He taught the world that God loves us all . . . and commanded us to love one another, to be sensitive to others and kind to one another. He told of the Good Samaritan . . . and his kindness to one of a different ethnic culture . . . actually a culture that despised him and his kin because of their ethnicity, yet he still did the right thing. You better believe an important element of Jesus’ parable certainly included race.
Frankly, we are still far from where we ought to be on this social issue as a Christian nation, but for those too young to remember that troubled time in our history, let me assure you that we have come a long way. I just read a news article of a black athlete signing a $200 million contract to play sports . . . that would not have happened back then. Today, we see many movies and TV programs with Black actors . . . … that was not permitted back then. Amazingly what was shown in that era was white men with black shoe polish applied to their faces trying to talk like black people. Sadly, folks thought that to be both acceptable and funny.
Those wheels turn very slowly . . . shame on us.