Martin Luther King Jr.
It is forty years since that fateful day when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. He had come to loom large in my life, reinforcing my growing commitment to religious pacifism. He thoughts and life demonstrated to me that "Faith and Action must be One". At the time, I was living in the United States doing what I could toward racial and social justice. I was living in Roxbury, the innercity black community in the Boston area, working part time in a church there while attending seminary.
This picture is by a student who wrote about Dr King as his hero, My Hero. I hope teachers continue to teach students though the examples of heros who have shaped our lives.
I remember the day well. Besides, the sense of tragic loss I and others felt. We were waiting to see what the reaction of the black community would be. Would the cities of the United States break out in race riots again.
.I went for a walk in my neighbourhood. There were few people on the street but I acknowledge those whose eye I caught with a understanding and knowing nod. I remember one old fellow sitting beside the sidewalk enjoying his liquor in a brown paper bag. He spoke to me, "How are you today, Brother?" " Sad, very sad!" I replied. He nodded and went back to his drink.
Tension was high but not hostile.
I had no sooner gotten back to the house when I got a call from a community leader. They were looking for a space to hold a memorial meeting. My church, the First Church in Roxbury, is a beautiful large New England Meeting House built in 1804, the third building for a congregation that went back to 1630. It had once been a wealthy congregation when Roxbury was a wealthy neighbourhood. It was one of those historic churches largely abandoned by the congregants as the demographics of the city changed. While it no longer related much to the local community it was the most beautiful building in Roxbury and I think treated with respect for that.
I was flattered to be asked. I said I would see what I could arrange. I made the necessary phone calls and like so many of these insitutions, the caretaker was the most powerful person. By the time I could track him down and convince the old racist, that having Dr King's Memorial Meeting in the church would be a good thing to do, and no "those black people" won't damage the place and steal things.
By the time, I got back to the fellow who had called me, they had arranged for another hall. I was dissapointed and wished I had just taken it upon myself to give permission.
I went to the community meeting. Much to my surprise I was the only white face among about 1000 people. It hadn't dawned on me that I would be the only "white folk". I was accepted and welcomed but disappointed more of "my people" were not there. It was later in a broader based downtown church that they would turn out.
As it happened, there was not a lot of social unrest across the country. Sadness across all sectors of the community made it a shared community grieving.
Dr King was perhaps the greatest of those "heros" of my generation who where murdered. I trust his ideas on race, society and war will continue to inspire us.
Note: For a more moving and detailed account of Dr King read Father John Dear's account
He tells us Dr King's very last words were "Precious Lord, Take My Hand" the title of the hymn he wanted to use at that nights meeting.
Precious Lord, take my hand.
Lead me on, let me stand
I am tired. I am weak. I’m alone
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand precious
Lord, lead me home.
. . . .