Honor King’s Memory, Realize Dignity Of Others
In 2019, how do we honor the memory of Martin Luther King Jr., and the work of the 1960s civil rights movement? Maybe we start by recognizing what he was all about, and by realizing that we are not there yet. Early in his public life, King, at age 27, garnered national attention in the midst of the Montgomery Bus boycott. He clearly articulated what the movement being born was all about: “The end is reconciliation, the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community.” The civil rights movement was one of the most startling and transformative social revolutions in history. I was born in 1955, a few weeks before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. I was born into a United States where segregation was legal, lethal and largely unquestioned. If you questioned the status quo of race relations, they wouldn’t fire tweets at you; they would shoot bullets. The Civil Rights Memorial in Alabama honors 38 martyrs who gave their lives for the cause. The peaceful, nonviolent methods of the movement forced hard-core racists to realize their own morally objectionable position. The dignity and courage of the nonviolent protesters, many of them young adults of college age, called the white majority to conversion and recognition of the justice of the African-American community’s call for equality. The Civil Rights Act was signed in July of 1964. I was 8 years old. In less than a decade, the United States went from a segregated land to a community much closer to “liberty and justice for all.” Prime beneficiaries of the movement were not just American blacks. White opponents to the Civil Rights Act added “sex” to the bill’s protections, thinking that would increase votes against it. Along with “race, color, religion and national origin,” discrimination on the basis of sex would be illegal. The plan backfired and the bill passed, changing the lives of all Americans for the better. Ruth Bader Ginsberg and the biopic, “On the Basis of Sex,” would never have happened without the Civil Rights Act. Athletic programs for women in colleges would not exist. Laws prohibiting marital rape would not be on the books. And women would have no recourse if they did not receive equal pay for equal work. Still, today women make only 80 cents for every dollar men make. Earning disparities between racial groups stubbornly persist. Median family income for the nation in 2017 was $61,372. Broken down by race, it was Asians/Pacific islanders, $81,331; whites, $68,145; Latinos: $50,486, and blacks, $40,258. Saddest of all is the reality that black women and their babies die at twice the rate of white women and their babies. “Good!” I can hear some troglodyte racist mutter as he reads that sad fact. Overt and ugly racism has a bit of a renaissance these days. But those days are numbered. True Americans, the vast majority of our 328 million citizens, celebrate racial and cultural diversity. Anyone who strives to know and serve the living God who is love welcomes the progress this country has made in the past 50 years. In May, at the University of Scranton, George Murry, S.J., bishop of Youngstown Ohio, described the world our loving God desires for all. It’s a world where we not only just get along, but form the beloved community envisioned by the prophet from Atlanta. “Imagine pulling people in from every neighborhood, from every walk of life, compelling them to sit down and share a meal together,” he said. “You would have black and white and brown all together, rich and poor, gay and straight, progressive and conservative. Everyone’s mind would be blown when a vegan found a way to share a meal with a carnivore rancher, when a Black Lives Matter activist chuckled at the joke told by a Confederate flag-wearing Harley rider, and when a Trump enthusiast asked an undocumented immigrant to pass the tortillas. “Somewhere in all of the mixing and relating, the Holy Spirit moves. God’s blessed community looks like a smorgasbord of humanity, in heaven and on earth. That’s not to say that it is OK to hold onto our biases, even our moral failings, but we grow past them together.” Like the good bishop, Abraham Lincoln, in his first inaugural address, declared, “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” Let’s honor Rev. King, who gave his life for justice and truth. Let’s follow the better angels of our nature and grow past our prejudices. Let’s reconcile, redeem one another and bring into being the beloved community.