Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday
Good morning. We gather this morning to reflect on God and to remember the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy of courage for our world today.
Let’s start by remembering our history.
Nearly one hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, Afri- can Americans, especially those in Southern states, still lived in an unequal world of segregation and various forms of oppression, including race-inspired violence. “Jim Crow” laws at the local and state levels barred African Americans from classrooms and bathrooms, from theaters and voting booths, from juries and legislatures.
Finally, in 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the “separate but equal” laws that had allowed racial discrimination in schools with the decision of Brown vs. the Board of Education.
In the turbulent years that followed that important decision, civil rights activists used nonviolent protest and civil disobedience to bring about change, as seen in movies such as Selma, released in 2014. Through their action, the federal government finally enacted legislation such as the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968.
Many leaders from within the African American community and beyond rose to prominence during the civil rights era, including Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. In Kansas City many leaders such as Rev. Nelson “Fuzzy” Thompson, Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver II, and others risked—and sometimes lost—their lives in the name of freedom and equity. Today, we have a national holiday celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. because he gave his life for the freedom and equity of all humanity in America.
Let us take a moment, have a bit of fun, and quiz your civil rights history.
1. The 1955–56 Montgomery bus boycott a protest against segregated public facilities in Alabama, was led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and lasted for how many days? 381 days
2. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. realized that the nonviolent tactics used by this Indian political and religious leader was one of the most potent weapons available to African Americans in their struggle for freedom. Who was this Indian political and religious leader? Mahatma Gandhi
3. With the goal of redeeming “the soul of America” through nonviolent resistance, this organization was established in 1957, to coordinate the action of local protest groups throughout the South drawing on the power and independence of black churches to support its activities. What was this organization? Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)
4. During what event did Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his famous “I Have a Dream” speech?
(A) the Selma campaign
(B) the Birmingham campaign
(C) the March on Washington—Correct
(D) the Montgomery bus boycott
5. What was a common motto of civil rights activists in the 1950s and 1960s?
(A) “We Shall Overcome”—Correct
(B) “Liberty and Justice for All”
(C) “One Nation Under God”
(D) “Live and Let Live”
Did anyone get all five correct? Good job!
Today we often take our freedoms for granted yet in light of our recent history we may be much more aware of underlying prejudices and fears that have been festering in the dark around us.
I was born and raised in Detroit. I have a vague memory of being in my basement with my parents watching TV as the riots went on:
"The 1967 Detroit riot, also known as the 12th Street riot, was a violent public disorder that turned into a civil disturbance in Detroit, Michigan. It began in the early morning hours of Sunday, July 23, 1967. The precipitating event was a police raid of an unlicensed, after-hours bar then known as a blind pig, just north of the corner of 12th Street (today Rosa Parks Boulevard) and Clairmount Avenue on the city's Near West Side. Police confrontations with patrons and observers on the street evolved into one of the deadliest and most destructive riots in the history of the United States, lasting five days and surpassing the violence and property destruction of Detroit's 1943 race riot.
To help end the disturbance, Governor George W. Romney ordered the Michigan Army National Guard into Detroit, and President Lyndon B. Johnson sent in both the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. The result was 43 dead, 1,189 injured, over 7,200 arrests, and more than 2,000 buildings destroyed. The scale of the riot was surpassed in the United States only by the 1863 New York City draft riots during the U.S. Civil War, and the 1992 Los Angeles riots. The riot was prominently featured in the news media, with live television coverage, extensive newspaper reporting, and extensive stories in Time and Life magazines. The staff of the Detroit Free Press won the 1968 Pulitzer Prize for general local reporting for its coverage.”
It was immediately after the riots that my parents decided to move to Livonia Michigan. Though I cannot find proof of it, I believe that African American people were not legally allowed in Livonia. To this day, it is rates as one of the whitest cities in the United States. Not much to be proud of.
I do not recall my parents being blatantly racist then again they had no reason to display it. They lived in the whitest city around. I did not see any people of color growing up except on TV until I entered high school.
In high school I became active in Focus Hope. “In 1968, Father William Cunningham (1930–1997) and Eleanor Josaitis (1931-2011) co-founded Focus: HOPE. Together, they adopted the following mission:
Recognizing the dignity and beauty of every person, we pledge intelligent and practical action to overcome racism, poverty and injustice and to build a metropolitan community where all people may live in freedom, harmony, trust and affection. Black and white, yellow, brown and red from Detroit and its suburbs of every economic status, national origin and religious persuasion we join in this covenant. —“
This pledge is still mine today…There are many emotions surrounding this week, I believe things that were allowed to fester in the dark are now brought into the light.
We can live to love those in pain, we can stand with those on the margins, and we can fight so that all may live equally in the love of God. The all-loving God….all loving that means the language of us versus them needs to stop!
This means we can fight for what we believe in without vilifying another part of the America that is us, without vilifying another part of the world that is us for we…each and every one of us are beautiful children created in the image of God. Moreover, I believe Dr. King’s vision can still come to be true.
Dr King did say; “In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.” this is just as true today as it was then. Yes, we can have fun with the late night comedians and the randy rainbows of the world but we must be cautious.
Do not, I mean we must not allow hatred, anger, and demeaning language to become our mantra. We must not allow our dialogue to degenerate into hatred and name-calling. If you are frustrated Honor Dr. Kings legacy by writing letters. Attending local government meetings. Work in the system. Love your neighbor. Your neighbor, by the way, is the one you do not understand and do not like what they are doing in government or what laws they are passing.
I want to say Happy Birthday Dr. King your legacy shall live on in me and I hope in each one of us.
 lia McIntosh, The Abingdon Press Preaching Annual (tn: abdingdon press, 2016).
 wikipedia, 1967 Detroit Riot, December 18, 2016, accessed January 12, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1967_Detroit_riot.
 focus hop inc, Focus: HOPE's Mission Inspires Everything We Do!, 2017, accessed January 12, 2017, http://www.focushope.edu/page.aspx?content_id=1&content_type=level1.