Honoring the Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

Today, as we once again honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., one of our nation’s greatest leaders and moral voices, I reread one of his more compelling calls for people of faith to speak out against injustice. It is the letter he wrote from a Birmingham, Alabama jail on April 16, 1963. This letter was written in response to a public statement made by eight local clergymen who were challenging the validity of the activities of Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, for which he was the President.

Rather than make a feeble attempt at summarizing the letter, and the statement to which he was responding, I have included hyperlinks to both. Nonetheless, one section of his letter I find especially profound and a powerful call to action for those who love justice. Found in the fourth paragraph from the end, he wrote…

One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy two year old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: “My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest.” They will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience’ sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Now, fifty-six years later, we again need for persons of faith to stand for the oppressed and stand against injustice. To raise our voices against all who promote self-interest above justice and compassion for others. May the words and actions of Dr. King continue to inspire and convict.

Letter from the Birmingham Jail

Public statement of Birmingham Clergy