Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Black Lives Matter: my letter to the late Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dear Reader: in these days of Black Lives Matter, I want to share a memo I wrote to (and in honor of) the deceased Martin Luther King, Jr.    The memo was written in 2009; King died in 1968.



Dear Martin Luther King, Jr.

Re. Memories of your and our Dream.

Martin, you provided a beacon of light to me in the 1960s through your courage in the face of danger and your marvelous communication skills demonstrated in a book such as Why We Can’t Wait and in oratory like “I have a Dream.”  

Dear Martin,

In 1961 I arrived in Chicago from the frontier State of Washington.  In seminary I interned with ministry mentors in Chicago, particularly the Revs. Jim Reed and John Winters of Parish of the Holy Covenant. 

Together with thousands, we marched for educational justice at the headquarters of Chicago School Board.  I felt ever so white, but knew my presence was appreciated by African-Americans in the demonstration.  

On one weekend in 1962, a group of several black students from Tougaloo College, accompanied by two Chicago clergy and two seminary students including myself, attempted to integrate worship services in a couple of segregated white churches in Jackson, Mississippi.  I was not at great risk personally, even though ushers called police for help as we approached a church, asking for entrance.  

My colleagues and I were visitors in Mississippi, on call to help provide some cover for the Tougaloo students in their equality campaign.  They were the ones at risk.  I would go back north.  But during that weekend I had a glimpse of the risk that they and many others were taking routinely in pursuit of the American dream.

Your 1963 speech, I have a dream, was unspeakably motivational and, at the same time, heart rending.  The March on Washington exhilarated me.  The fact that it had to happen depressed me.

Then the horror of the assassinations:  yours, President Kennedy’s, Robert Kennedy’s.  

Somehow our country managed to pick up the pieces and get on with national life.  The forces of darkness did not prevail, though residual conflict remains until this day.

A couple of your Boston University professors later taught me as well:  Prof. Paul K. Deats and Dean Walter Muelder. They were so proud of you.  Paul gave me the privilege, as his assistant, of bringing the manuscript of one of your books from Mugar Library to a secured showcase in the School of Theology library.  Your hand-written editing notes appeared on the typescript.  As I walked down Commonwealth Avenue with that treasure in my care I marveled at the sense of contact with you that I enjoyed at that moment.

From you, I learned the values of risk for the sake of higher values of community, equality and justice.  I give thanks to God that I was allowed the opportunity of brushing up against your jet stream.  I’m one of millions who testify that you live on through your influence.

Sincerely,           Darrell Reeck

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