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Remembering the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at a Lutheran Youth Gathering in 1961.
Source- ELCA Youth Gathering Facebook Page from ELCA Archives

Today is the federal holiday in which we remember the life and legacy of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  King worked hard to promote equality, to end segregation, and to remind people that everyone was worthy of God's love. 

Born in 1929, Michael King, Jr was the second child in a family of three. Both his grandfather and father were Baptist ministers who raised their children well-versed in the Bible and Christian Education. In 1934, King, Sr. was sent on a trip to Europe and Israel with the Baptist World Alliance, where he learned about the Reformer, Martin Luther. After witnessing the rise of the Nazi party, King, Sr.  decided to change his own name and that of his son to Martin Luther King (Sr and Jr, respectively).

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s first experience with segregation and inequality developed from a friendship with a white child, whose father owned a business across from their home. The boy's parents did not want Martin and the boy to be friends due to the fact that their son was white and Martin was black. In a discussion with his parents, Martin relayed that he wanted to hate all people but was instructed by his parents that it was his Christian duty to love everyone. 

Thus started Martin's journey with racial segregation and inequality. King received education from Morehouse College and in 1947, choose to enter ministry. He studied at Crozer Seminary in Upland, PA; found himself at Boston University to work on his PHD, and even took courses at Harvard University. King ended up back in the south as he pastored at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery Alabama before returning to Ebenezer in Atlanta to co-pastor with his father. 

In March 1955, a young school girl refused to give up her bus seat to a white man. She violated the Jim Crow laws at the time that enforced racial inequality and segregation. A few months later, an incident occurred with Rosa Parks, which in time, led to a 385 day Montgomery Bus Boycott, spearheaded by King's leadership. 

Thus, King's role in civil rights and activism had started. As King, only in his twenties, grew in leadership and popularity, he worked with other leaders in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to promote non-violent reactions against injustice and inequality across the southern communities he inhabited and worked with. Those times were not easy and much opposition was received. As the recipient of several hate crimes, King survived a bomb thrown at his home, a knife attack, and much emotional and physical abuse from his opponents. 

In 1961, King was invited to speak at the American Lutheran Church youth convention in Miami. Gathered together with 20,000 young people, a largely white populated audience, King was not widely well-received, but delivered an impactful message that is remembered today. 

He called for those young people to love their neighbor with agape love. He called them to love their neighbor through the lens of God- one who loves everyone, no matter who or what they are. 

"When we rise to love on this level we love men not be cause we like them or because their ways appeal to us, but because God loves them. We rise to the point where we can love the person who does an evil deed while still hating the deed that the person does. I think this must 1e what Jesus meant when he said, “Love your enemies.” I’m so happy he didn’t say “like” your enemies, for like is a sentimental, affectionate sort of thing. It’s pretty difficult to like some people" 

King also encouraged those youth to not be complacent. He wanted them to life a life that was fierce and full of fire- not adjusted to the inequalities and oppressions that this world offers us. 

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking at the American Lutheran Church Convention, 1961. Source- North Texas/ North Louisiana ELCA Synod Website. 

In the 1961 speech at the American Lutheran Church Luther League Convention, King stated: 

    "I know that each of you wants a well-adjusted life...I call upon each of you to be maladjusted to all of these things until a good society is realized. I never intend to become adjusted to the evils of segregation and the crippling effects of discrimination. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never intend to become adjusted to the madness of militarism and the self-defeating effects of physical violence...It is no longer a choice between violence and non-violence. It is either non-violence or non-existence, and I never intend to become adjusted to the madness of war. I call upon you this morning to become maladjusted to all of these things, because it may well be that the destiny and salvation of our world lie in the hands of the maladjusted. Let us be maladjusted as the prophet Amos who, in the midst of the injustices of his day, could cry out in words that echo across the centuries, “let justice run down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream”; as maladjusted as Abraham Lincoln, who had the vision to see that this nation could not survive half slave and half free; as maladjusted as Thomas Jefferson who, in the midst of an age amazingly adjusted to slavery, could cry out in words lifted to cosmic proportions, “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”; as maladjusted as Jesus of Nazareth who could say to the men and women of his generation, “love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you.” 

A couple of years later, in 1963, King led the March on Washington, where he gave his most famous "I have a dream" speech. The speech that we all learned in school. The speech that is remembered every year. The speech that sparked a revolution and impacted an entire country, if not, a world, in need of hope and love. 

While it's great to enjoy the day off work, school, and play in the snow; take some time to remember the life and legacy of the man that influenced so many. Check out your community and see if any events are being offered today. 

In our community, we hold an annual parade and remembrance event. Our city has a long history with racial inequality and inequity. In fact, Martin Luther King, Jr. was supposed to attend a speaking engagement in Wilmington (NC) on the day that he was assassinated. 

Our community also hosts a joint ecumenical service to remember the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. This year's service is online and I bet if you look, there is a community organization or church hosting an online event that you can view and learn more about. 

At the close of his speech to those teenagers attending that convention in Miami, he shared:

"This is our faith--this is our hope. Let us go out to our various communities and into our various churches and schools, and make this a reality. This will be the day when all of God’s children--black men and white men--will be able to join hands all over the United States singing the word of the old Negro Spiritual “free at last, free at last, thank God a’mighty, we are free at last.”"

King's legacy continues to live on every year that we remember him, on this day, during Black History month, during those moments throughout the year when he pops into our heads. His legacy reminds us that being passionate about something, fighting for the right to be heard, fighting for our beliefs isn't a bad thing. His legacy reminds us that care and compassion for our neighbors, for our communities, for those people we disagree with is highly important, even if they do hurt us. 

We still have a long long way to go to achieve what King dreamed of. I fully believe that one day, we can get there. 

What do you fight for? What are you passionate about? How do you love others that differ from you, even if they harm you? 

This is the day to remember, to dream big, and to start working on it- even if its just a small step forward. 


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