Fifty years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot dead in Memphis by whitesegregationist James Earl Ray. This was at the height of the civil rights movement which stove for equality for black people in the highly segregated deep south of the USA. Dr. King’s insistence throughout the campaign for equalitywas always on non-violence. This, however,did nottake away from the radicalism of his cause because he knew that only though determined action would change come. The injustice and prejudices suffered by the black communitieswas seeminglyinsurmountable. Despite the advances that had been made thereremainedstrong anddetermined resistance and protesters were, more often than not, met with extreme violence from the governing authorities.In March 1965, a group of demonstrators attempting to march peacefully from Selma Montgomery to demand the right to vote were attacked with whips, clubs and tear gas. Two years previously a bomb torethroughaBaptist church in Alabamakilling four innocent children.
In April 1968 it would have seemed beyond the hopes and expectation of the black communitythat the White house would have become the home of the first AfricanAmerican president, or thatMartin himself would be ingrained into the history of the nation with an annual day’s holiday. His speech in 1963 when over 250,000 converged on Washington isone of the greatest orations in Americanandeven world history. He spoke of his dreamwhen people of all races and creedswould come together and when children of whatever race would not be judged by the colour of their skin but on the content of their character.
To this day there remain dictatorships and regimes that discriminate againstminoritiesbecause of theirethnicity, orientation and religion. If there is any purpose in remembering the events of fifty years ago it is in continuing tochallenge such evil and prejudice wherever it is seen. Martin, if he had lived would by now be nearing his 90thbirthday. This simple Baptist preacher so moved and convinced by the example of Jesus that he too chose the way of sacrifice and suffering rather that the ways of violence and intimidation. One sentence from his sermon ‘Strength to love’ is surely the way we too must follow.
‘Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that’
Martin’s star still burns bright and will never be extinguished – ‘Well done good and faithful servant’