Remembering Dr. King

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Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

I confess. I’m a King idolater.

That’s one reason my wife Toni and I joined 150 or so citizens to march from the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Bridge downtown to First Presbyterian Church for a service.

The old church’s sanctuary has always made me want to bow my head and be silent. Maybe it’s the mood the blue, red and amber stained glass windows creates.

I wouldn’t miss such a service as the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination approaches. I always meet old friends from our city’s civil rights struggles. Our district councilman, Jeff Paddock, greeted us. As did the county sheriff and police chief.

As we settled into our pews, the senior pastor of First Pres, Jeff Lehn, welcomed everybody.

Then, one of my favorite preachers, The Rev. Bill McGill, read Dr. King’s “I”ve been to the mountaintop” speech. That’s the one he delivered just hours before he was assassinated. I thought to myself this is as good as it gets for a King memorial service.

But then it got even better.

The guest speaker was The Rev. C.T. Vivian of Atlanta. I can’t say I recall the name. But this white-haired gentleman had marched along side Dr. King during the great civil rights demonstrations of the 1950s and 1960s.

I noticed that he carried a sheet of paper to the pulpit, which was the same pulpit that Dr. King spoke from when he visited Fort Wayne in 1963. But if this sheet of paper was his sermon, he sure didn’t need it. Rev. Vivian looked at the congregation the entire time he spoke, never once glancing at his text. (If that’s what he carried to the pulpit.)

It was the kind of delivery I prefer. Not preachy. It was more of a conversation this elder statesman of the movement was having with his people. He recalled the marches, the abuse by police and some ordinary citizens. He remarked on King’s eloquence. “I never got tired of hearing him, again and again” Vivian said.

Events here and nationwide this season properly commemorate the life and ministry of this extraordinary person. I was in a graduate class at the University of Cincinnati the evening Dr. King was shot. Before the class started, a fellow student, a young woman, made an insensitive, uncaring remark. I turned away in my seat.

We’ve traveled a long road toward racial justice since then. But as Rev. Vivian reminded us in his quietly eloquent manner, we’re not there yet. Dr. King said it in Memphis, “I may not get there with you, but I have seen the promised land…”

Every year, at such memorial services, we get another glimpse. I would’t miss it.

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Still not equal

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Dr. Barbara Reynolds blogger/columnist at The Washington Post Root DC
Dr. Barbara Reynolds
blogger/columnist at The Washington Post Root DC

I was especially interested to read Barbara Reynolds’ op.ed. piece on civil rights in today’s morning paper.

Her piece, first published in The Washington Post, contrasts the Black Lives Matter demonstrations of today with those demonstrations of the 1960s civil rights movement.

If I had a signature issue when I was writing editorials for The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, it was civil rights. So here it is, long after my retirement in 2000, and I still carefully follow the story of the struggle of our black citizens and other minorities for equal rights.

In her column, Rev. Reynolds notes that at protests today, you have a hard time telling the legitimate activists from the “mob actors who burn and loot.”

She recalls civil rights leaders of that now long ago era, Ralph Abernathy, Jesse Jackson, John Lewis, Andy Young and, of course, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In contrast with many of today’s demonstrators, such heroes and their followers in those marches and sit-ins exhibited great discipline and forbearance – even when police set upon them with billy clubs and tear gas.

These demonstrators wore suits, ties and dresses, attired in fitting fashion for the dignity and resolution their faces showed.

Dressed in torn jeans, sweatshirts and sneakers, many of the today’s Black Lives Matter demonstrators taunt police and appear bent on confrontation. Some throw bottles and rocks.

Yes, these young people have reason to be upset and angry. Black and Hispanic unemployment remains double that of white unemployment. In some cities, that contrast is more like three times. Social services are spotty and poorly funded.

Segregation in housing and schools in larger cities remains intractable. In a few southern states, public officials continue to seek ways to prevent black citizens from voting.

It would be an insult to minorities and their hopes for equality to point out the social changes that have taken place since the 1960s. Indeed, these are innumerable. In Barak Obama, we’ve even elected a black president – twice.

Nevertheless, equal rights for all citizens still appears the dream of idealists. Which at least explains in part the rowdy behavior of the Black Lives Matter demonstrators as they assess the reality. But they’re still missing something.

At the end of her column, Rev. Reynolds quotes the nasty lyrics of the rappers. Suffice it to say this sounds like the language of surrender, defeat.

What a far cry from the inspiration and hopeful songs of the civil rights movement. For me, the words still ring out – “We shall overcome.” Someday. Yes, someday.

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