Today would have been Martin Luther King, Jr’s eighty-eight birthday. We know his story well. He is viewed as the most celebrated African American leader. His story has been depicted and chronicled in biographies, movies, theses and dissertations, museums, and public spaces, including parks. His papers are available on the campus of Morehouse College for research and study purposes. The King’s crypt at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change is a hallowed and honored site in Atlanta, Georgia. No one can take anything away from the legacy of Dr. King.
Several years ago, a UAB student spoke with me regarding her Ph.D. work. She wanted to focus on the Civil Rights Movement, emphasizing the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. I made a concerted effort not to be rude in my remarks to her, but stressed that Dr. King’s life and work had been under a crucial spotlight for years by many scholars. I suggested that she focus on Fred Shuttlesworth, Andrew Young, Ralph Abernathy, or pastor’s wives who supported their husbands during the Civil Rights Movement. I am not certain what her final decision was, but maintain that Dr. King would not have been as successful as he was without the support he received from so many others in the Civil Rights Movement.
King clearly understood that, especially here in Birmingham, Alabama. There were several key conversations between King and Shuttlesworth regarding strategy and implementation. One of their major discussions involved the use of children in the campaign. King was not keen on using children and Shuttlesworth was adamant that they should be involved.
The late James Bevel and Diane Nash would train young people in the basement of St. Paul United Methodist Church on how to respond to Birmingham Police. They taught them strategies in civil disobedience and the jails became filled with thousands of young people. The strategy in question proved to be successful and a major turning point in the Civil Rights Movement.
So many people contributed to the Civil Rights Movement. King receives a lot of credit; he was the national voice, the prominent face of the one representing all the hopes and dreams of freedom and liberation. He paid the ultimate price, gunned down by an assassin’s bullet. Yet, he stands of the shoulders of those that came before him, those who stood with him, and all who have been transformed by his life and witness.
This weekend we celebrate his birth and presence among us. As in everyday, we are grateful to all who fought the good fight of faith for the cause of righteousness and freedom. Amen.