There are very few words that seem appropriate to remember, honor, and truly appreciate the work and life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I have been to the site of his murder several times in Memphis, TN. Looking out the window of his hotel room onto that balcony where his life was taken has been one of the more sobering moments of my life. King is remembered for championing the Civil Rights Movement, for dreaming dreams, and for being a leader in non-violent marches and protests. Yet, we forget that in his 39 years, he was hated, betrayed, and died a very controversial prophetic voice critiquing the American systems.
So often I listen to the news reporters talking about King’s life being cut short. I hear them talking about how much more he could have accomplished. Yet, I am also hesitant to make the same claims given all that he had been through, all that he endured, all the words spoken, the steps marched, the protests attended, the physical abuse of bricks, letter openers, and punches. King suffered bomb threats, assassination attempts, among other things. King challenged the notions that ethical ministers should not break the law and that good citizens should be peaceable and stay silent. Why would a minister be arrested? Why was it time to break silence for the common good? It was 39 years, but I bet it felt like 100 years. In fact, in his last speech he asserted that he was tired, but not fearful…he has seen the goal of the promised land but suspected he would not arrive with his people.
Today, 50 years ago on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN…a gift to American political and religious discourse, a leader of civil rights, Martin Luther King, Jr was shot and killed. That act did not end in death, because King’s legacy lives, his voice lives, his words live, his dream lives, and we are better for it. Interestingly enough, it took death to enshrine on America’s collective heart the true creativity and genius of a man and a movement overlooked and unfairly criticized by a power structure determined to succeed. While the struggle continues, and there is more work to do, we are grateful for the way King called America to a higher moral standard by combining the creeds of Christian thought and American political thought.
Listening to King’s speeches and studying his non-violent philosophy has been one of the most inspiring and influential parts of my academic life. I am indebted to King, and I thank him for his courage, strength, and truthfulness in the face of danger. If you are looking for something to read today…look at the Letter from a Birmingham Jail or perhaps read King’s eulogy for the four little girls killed at a church youth gathering. It may have only been 39 years, but it was long enough to make a difference in the lives of a nation…so King’s life was meaningful, useful, and full! Again, my words fail and fall short, but thank you Dr. King.
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.