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Honoring the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Fifty years ago on April 4,1968, breaking news over the radio reported the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He had been assassinated while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. It was a Thursday, one week before Maundy Thursday. He had gone to Memphis to support striking African-American city sanitation workers who staged a walkout protesting unequal pay and working conditions. Black workers were paid less than white workers. Unlike white workers, black workers received no pay if they stayed home during bad weather.

By Friday, riots broke out in Chicago as rage stalked our streets.  Fires from buildings primarily on the West Side lit up the night sky. Mobs smashed windows all along shops on 63rd street on the city’s south side. Entire blocks were burned to the ground. “White flight” from the city accelerated. Businesses left. Mayor Daley urged residents to stay in their homes and called out the National Guard to quell the riots. 500 people were injured in those days of rioting; nine were killed, all African American.

“Why are they burning and looting their own community?” was the often-heard justification for blaming the victim, a common technique used to avoid culpability. Chicago was just one of many racially divided cities with African Americans getting the short end of the stick. It was the teenagers who saw injustice most clearly, and King, one of their own who had taken up their cause, had been assassinated. Hurt quickly turned to anger.

“Why are they burning and looting their own community?” That is a good question, if asked as a question in search of answers, in search of truth.

The Metro-Chicago Synod has an “Antiracism Ministry” resource, offering valuable support for congregations desiring to understand systemic racism. The Synod has a website entitled, “Another Pebble” (www.anotherpebble.org).  This Synod sponsored ministry’s focus “is on shaping an awareness of how racism manifests itself in our Church and society.” Our church is calling for respectful conversation.

From “A Sample Sermon” on the website come these words: “In this respectful conversation on race, color-blindness is not the desired outcome. Color equality is. There’s a big difference between noticing someone’s race and coming to quick conclusions about their personality, competence, or intelligence based on their racial background.

“Jesus says that he came that we might have life and have it more abundantly. Jesus does not want us to live happily with our racial biases, using Scripture and religious teaching to back it up. Jesus does not want us to remain silent about the racial divide, too fearful to engage those who are different (from) us. Jesus does not want us to underestimate the pain and reality of racial bias in our world. Jesus wants to give us abundant life.”

Trinity Church in New York City is also offering a video curriculum for individuals and groups willing to explore “contemporary black/white relationships” in America. Go to https://www.trinitywallstreet.org/education/mlk-jr-epistles-and-prophets for more information.

Systemic racism did not create itself; the system had its architects, builders and beneficiaries. Honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by making time in the weeks ahead to explore these websites and continue this important conversation with family and friends.

“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., April 3, 1968. Dr. King was 39 when he died.