January 15, 2015

Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday

Today marks the 86th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday, January 15, 1929.

Each year on his birthday, United Methodist Bishop Woodie White writes a birthday letter to Dr. King - sort of an annual update on the state of racism and human rights in the United States.  I began reading these annual letters while Bishop White was Bishop of the Indiana Conference.  Today he is retired and currently serves as bishop-in-residence at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta.

In this year's letter, Bishop White reflects on the 50th anniversary in 2015 of the March from Selma to Montgomery in March of 1965 and the passage of the 1965 Civil Rights Act in August, commonly called the Voting Rights Act.  He also reflects on some of the acts of violence we have seen around the country in this past year.  As he concludes in this year's letter:

"We continue to face a lot of work in this nation on the issue of race.  At times, we appear to move backward and forward simultaneously. The truth is, Martin, the events of the last 50 years are evidence of how far we have come on our journey to become "one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."  But, the last 50 days are evidence as well of how far we have yet to go!"

Read the letter here.

You may also wish to read: My Pilgrimage to Nonviolence by Martin Luther King, Jr.  Here are the concluding paragraphs:

In 1954 I ended my formal training with all of these relative divergent intellectual forces converging into a positive social philosophy. One of the main tenets of this philosophy was the conviction that nonviolent resistance was one of the most potent weapons available to oppressed people in their quest for social justice. At this time, however, I had merely an intellectual understanding and appreciation of the position, with no firm determination to organize it in a socially effective situation.
When I went to Montgomery as a pastor, I had not the slightest idea that I would later become involved in a crisis in which nonviolent resistance would be applicable. I neither started the protest nor suggested it. I simply responded to the call of the people for a spokesman. When the protest began, my mind, consciously or unconsciously, was driven back to the Sermon on the Mount, with its sublime teachings on love, and the Gandhian method of nonviolent resistance. As the days unfolded, I came to see the power of nonviolence more and more. Living through the actual experience of the protest, nonviolence became more than a method to which I gave intellectual assent; it became a commitment to a way of life. Many of the things that I had not cleared up intellectually concerning nonviolence were now solved in the sphere of practical action.