by: Pastor Jeanette Larson, PRAR member
I had the privilege with 7 others from the PRAR team IL/WI in early April to attend the 50th anniversary commemoration of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis TN. When he was assassinated, people were understandably grieving on April 4, 1968. Anyone over the age of 55 can probably remember exactly where you were when it happened.
His death sparked race riots all over the nation. I was only 3 years old at the time and didn’t realize that in Dr. King’s later years, he was shifting his focus from race to all poor people. The question sparks doubt among many if we have made much progress toward eliminating poverty from our nation.
We toured the MLK Civil Rights museum which took about 3 hours to go through. As you walk in the first section you hear slave spirituals along with many personal accounts of our brutal history of slavery in our country. We journeyed along toward the fight to desegregate schools, buses and other public establishments. You then go through the marches in Montgomery and Selma. Chills run up one’s spine as you hear the governor tell the people to turn back and then orders the police forward to literally beat back the crowds with batons and biting dogs. You then come to the room where Dr. King spent his last hours at the Lorraine Motel and see the actual place where he lost his life. At 6:01 p.m. the bell tolled 39 times for Dr. King’s 39 years of life on our earth.
The big question many speakers addressed April 4, 2018 was “Where do we go from here? We had the privilege to hear from the two widows of the sanitation workers that lost their lives months before Dr. King came to speak, from Jesse Jackson and Rev. Dr. William Barber the II from our DOC. Dr. Barber’s words and presence were moving. I invite you to hear his passionate speech at https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=william%20j.%20barber%2C%20ii
A day after the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. some of King’s closest confidants continued to honor his legacy. The website is https://mlk50.civilrightsmuseum.org/50th-anniversary-commemoration
Inside the University of Memphis School of Law building, two civil rights icons sat together and spoke candidly in front of a packed room. Those icons are Ambassador Andrew Young who worked alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Reverend James Lawson, the man who created the “I Am A Man” slogan and invited Dr. King to Memphis in 1968.
Lawson spoke about that first failed march in 1968 that ended in violence and brought Dr. King back to the city weeks later.
“Over the years we’ve discovered there were provocateurs, who came outside of Memphis,” Lawson said.
Young told the crowd that despite being faced with never-ending death threats, King was not afraid or deterred before his assassination.
“Dr. King was aware of most of these things and he had decided that he wasn’t going to run from it. It was almost like he was going to run toward it,” Young said. “We came a long way on race; we came a long way on dealing with violence and war, but we’ve really made very little progress on dealing with poverty.”
Rev. Dr. William Barber II states, “We have never completed the Reconstruction that our federal government admitted was necessary after the Civil War. Just as the Poor People’s Campaign proposed, the Reconstruction we need now must arise from the efforts of people harmed directly by racism, poverty, environmental degradation, and the war economy. That is the inspiration for the new Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, which is coordinating direct actions across the country that will begin in May. Activists in at least 32 states and Washington, D.C., will join in 40 days of civil disobedience, including an encampment in the nation’s capital, in hopes of building the power of the poor and the working class to reset the national agenda.Only by joining together and asserting our authority as children of God can we shift the moral narrative in this nation and create a movement that will challenge those in power to form the “more perfect union” to which we aspire. Now as in 1968, this notion looks impossible. Except, again, there is no other way.” https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/02/a-new-poor-peoples-campaign/552503/
Are we ready to live into the resurrection of new life and new ways of being? Deborah Owen, pastor of Disciples of Christ Community Church, Champaign and St. Peter’s United Church of Christ, Champaign wrote:
“What a great experience it was to travel to Memphis with the PRAR Team from CCIW for the 50th anniversary commemoration of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.! I am so very thankful for this time. The Civil Rights museum was a powerful and poignant reminder of the history of, and sadly the ongoing presence of racism in the United States. It was a reminder once again of the aggressive hatefulness which destroyed much the nation building of our country, but also a reminder of the many, many people who could not be content with this way of life. Thank God for people who stood firm against racism in the past, and those who continue diligently to call us out each and every day. ADVOCATE – CONFRONT -TRANSFORM! “