On January 21, 2013 the nation observed the national holiday for The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15, 1929). Coincidentally, on the same day President Barack Obama was inaugurated for his second term. I have previously described Dr. King as one who “disrupted the tranquility of the nation, paralyzed and confused power structures, advocated creative tension, practiced civil disobedience and left a trail of turmoil and chaos.” He was a prophet in his own time, and he gave courageous leadership to a national movement that literally turned the world upside down.
During his swearing in ceremony on inauguration day, President Obama used the bibles of President Abraham Lincoln and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech 50 years ago at the Lincoln Memorial. President Obama faced the memorial as he took the oath. It was President Lincoln who signed the Emancipation Proclamation. It was 150 years ago that the proclamation freed the slaves in the states that were in rebellion in the midst of the Civil War.
President Lincoln served as the commander in chief during America’s bloody civil war. Dr. King was at the center of a civil rights struggle that witnessed bombings, riots, beatings, and gun violence. Both Lincoln and King died at the hands of an assassin. Both crusaders were the untimely victims of gun violence.
At this time in our nation’s history there is a renewed but polarized conversation unfolding about gun violence in our society. This conversation has taken on new impetus in the wake of the mass murders of 20 children and six adults at a Newtown, Connecticut elementary school. At the center of the conversation is the matter of second amendment rights. I wonder about the right of an ordinary, innocent citizen not to be shot by any kind of gun.
During my lifetime, I have witnessed the death of several high profile people as a result of gun violence. Let me name a few of them: President John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Senator Robert Kennedy, Medgar Evers, Viola Liuzzo and countless others. All of these people in their own way were drum majors for justice. They gave their life in the struggle to build a better America.
President Lincoln, among other things, wanted to save the union. On the other hand, Dr. King worked to shape a new society. The American Civil War grappled with the issue of slavery and freedom. After the Civil War and the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment, African Americans still were not free. King’s projection was always that African Americans would one day be free.
Dr. King always taught the civil rights workers and demonstrators to employ nonviolence. For him, love was the regulating ideal. Christian love and nonviolent resistance were at the core of Dr. King’s theology and philosophy of nonviolence that could and would bring down the walls of segregation.
If Dr. King had lived, he would be 83 years old today. Although he died at the hands of an assassin, his awesome dream is alive today. He shepherded the vision of a “beloved community” in which all people would be treated as equal human beings. This community would be a bastion of justice and peace.
Sisters and brothers, we have much work to do. We must espouse Dr. King’s dream and maintain his hope.
Think about it!