|Martin Luther King April 4
Martin Luther King Jnr was one of the most influential leaders of the Civil Rights Movement in the USA. He was born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1929. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather were black preachers. He was recognised as a promising student from a young age, and graduated PhD in theology from Boston University before he was 25. He then became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.
Racial tension in the town was high. Black resentment at the indignities of the segregation of public transport boiled over, and in 1955 blacks began a boycott of the buses, a protest that King eventually led. There were attacks on King’s home, but in 1956 the Supreme Court ordered that buses in Montgomery be integrated. King was now a symbol of the fight by southern blacks against racial injustice. In 1957 King became president of the newly formed Southern Christian Leadership Conference. This organisation of black clergy provided a network for the expansion of the Civil Rights Movement through many southern states.
In 1960 King moved to Ebenezer Baptist Church in Alabama to further the work of civil rights. He was committed to non-violent protest, and led his followers in sit-ins, boycotts and peaceful marches. In August 1963 King led a march on Washington of 200,000 people. In his speech at the Lincoln Memorial he demonstrated the oratorical brilliance that made him the acknowledged spokesperson on black civil rights:
I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed - “we hold these truths to be self evident; that all men are created equal.” . . . I have a dream my four little children will live in a nation where they will not be judged by color of their skin but by content of their character. . . . With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.
The US Congress in 1964 passed the Civil Rights Act, prohibiting racial discrimination in public places and calling for equal opportunities in employment and education. In the same year King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
By 1965 King’s campaign had moved into the northern states, and he had turned his attention to the economic woes of blacks. In 1966 he led a successful protest in Chicago over discriminatory practices in rental housing. King was no longer the only spokesperson on black civil rights, and more aggressive voices were heard. King turned his attention to poverty in general and organised a Poor People’s Campaign, hoping to unite the poor of all races in the struggle for economic opportunity. He also became critical of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War.
King was no stranger to threats to his life, but he continued his work. He said, “I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” In March 1968 he went to Memphis to help organise a strike by mainly black garbage collectors, and was shot dead by a sniper on 4 April that year.
For Liturgical Use
Martin Luther King Jnr was born in 1929 and soon developed qualities of leadership. In 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, he led a peaceful protest against racial segregation on the buses. The Civil Rights Movement grew. King stood for peaceful resistance, saying, “Christ furnished the spirit and motivation while Ghandi furnished the method.” Demonstrators staged sit-ins, boycotts and marches, the most famous being the march on Washington in August 1963. In 1964 Congress moved to prohibit racial discrimination, and King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. While in Memphis he was shot dead by a sniper on 4 April 1968.
Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Amos 5:24
God of justice,
you called Martin Luther King to be a prophet
in the struggle for people’s rights;
give us compassion for the oppressed,
make us indignant at injustice,
and keep us committed to peace,
in the name of Jesus Christ, the prince of peace.
we remember your servant Martin,
pursuing his dream;
we remember the thousands
who have marched and spoken against oppression,
who have suffered for it and died;
we pray you hear their cry,
“We shall overcome!”
Psalms 99 138
Amos 8:4-7 Injustice in the land
Galatians 4:28,31-5:1,6 Free, not slaves
Matthew 5:43-48 Love for enemies
Post Communion Sentence
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28