Reflections on the death of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Yesterday was the feast day of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Forty-five years ago  he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.  He was there to stand with sanitation workers as they called for a living wage just as five years before he had stood with people in Birmingham, Alabama, as they demonstrated against segregation and the brutality of a police department that met their peaceful protest with fire hoses, clubs and dogs.
King, Fred Shuttlesworth, Ralph Abernathy and other leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference were in Birmingham not only to draw attention to the wrongs there but also, in the words of the SCLC mission statement, “To redeem the soul of America.”  Some of the white ministers in Birmingham responded to the protests with a stinging letter castigating King and others and urging them to call off the protests.  Asking them to trust the tonic of time.  Accusing King and others of being interlopers intruding on local Birmingham issues.
 King responded to these accusations in a letter
that was written in the margins of newspapers and smuggled out of the Birmingham jail in little strips of papers.  Today, fifty years later, King’s
“Letter From a Birmingham Jail” is one of the most widely known and widely quoted documents of the Civil Rights Movement.  From his jail cell in Birmingham King wrote, “…I am in Birmingham because injustice is here.  Just as the prophets of the eight century B.C. left their villages and carried their ‘thus saith the Lord’ far beyond the boundaries of their home towns: and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco-Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom far beyond my own hometown.  Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid….
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.  We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly….”  Today, a half-century later, injustice continues almost unabated.  In my home state–New Mexico–children go to bed hungry, schools are underfunded, housing is privilege not a right.  Rev. Martin Luther King once asked
It’s a question that still needs to be asked.
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