It was in the early evening. I was on the telephone with my editor.
I had written a book entitled, Steps Toward Deepening Spiritual Life.
When suddenly, she screamed into the phone. “What’s happening?”,
I asked with concerned urgency. “Oh my God! Oh my God!”
Then she calmed herself enough to say, “Dr. King has been shot.”
Deep silence followed. I don’t remember what happened after that.
I remember hanging up the phone. I conveyed the news to my wife.
Then I went to fulfill an appointment I had with a parishioner. As we
drove to our destination, I tried to talk about what Dr. King meant
to us, America and the world.
In the segregated South, where I was born and spent the first 10 years
of my life, Dr. King taught us and showed us how to fight back. The
systems, institutions, traditions, mores, customs, religions, everything
about the South had been blatantly, unashamedly racist. The southland
backed up its “way of life” with force and violence. The
law, and for the most part, religion, either cooperated or maintained
a deafening silence. Our options were clear and limited; accept the
status quo, which meant acquiescing in your own dehumanization, or leave
for better places, or resist, or fight. But if we embraced the later,
and most people wanted to resist, we were confronted with the towering
question, “How would we fight back?” The segregationist
had the fire power. Law enforcement systems, the National Guard, the
Army, the Navy, and State Troopers were on their side. And were all
too eager to move with maximum force against even the slightest hint
that their “way of life” was being challenged.
Then along came Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was not long out of seminary.
He had accepted a call to pastor Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery,
Alabama. This was to be a temporary career. There were other aspirations
that he entertained in his mind. It is said that the leadership of Montgomery
selected him as their leader after Rosa Parks had broken the law and
was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man.
But those of us, who believe in the supreme other, know that there was
an intervention from beyond. The leaders who picked Dr. King were simply
the instruments to fulfill the purpose of the divine plan.
Dr. King stepped forward and implemented an old tactic. It had been
called by many names, non-violent action, non-violent direct action,
non-compliance with evil, selective patronage and boycott. Jesus and
Paul in Israel, Mahatma Ghandhi in India, David Thoreau in New England,
and many others taught and/or used the tactic. Dr. King implemented
He provided a way for us to resist – to fight back, and in the
process, gained countless supporters of every national, religious, class,
background, and, made great “strides toward freedom.” Equally,
if not more important, we won our self-respect, dignity and pride.
The weapon of his warfare gave everybody, children, the aged, the physically
challenged, etc., and the opportunity to participate and share the fruit
of a noble cause. For three hundred and sixty five (365) days, they
found a way of mobility without using public transportation. They won
that victory, and many other victories were to follow – the eradication
of illegal segregation, the civil rights/voter rights legislation 1964-65,
to cite a couple of notable arguments. In addition, perhaps the greatest
victory was winning the loyalty and participation of the Black church.
This is not to say that all churches fell in line. No indeed, most churches
were not with him initially. Many that finally joined the struggle walked
no more with him, when he opposed the war in Vietnam. But he was able
to rally enough churches to revive the spirit of the prophetic Black
church. To those who knew their Black church history, it seemed that
the spirit of Rev. Henry Highland Garnet, Frederick Douglass and Bishop
McNeal Turner were moving across the land and thundering against the
demonic manifestation in the wicked systems.
A year before his death, April 4, 1967, I was in the Riverside Church,
the night he delivered his speech entitled, Why I Oppose the Vietnam
War. During the speech, his voice was rhythmic; his words were poetic
and reverberated around the huge stone cathedral. He was like a great
musician, carefully picking the right note, making the perfect sound.
He called America, the greatest prevailer of violence in the world.
Some say he wrote his death warrant that night. Others say it was the
Poor People’s Campaign which would conclude in Washington, DC,
with a prolonged Resurrection City. He said they would remain in the
city until the country delivered on its promise to all of its citizens.
Still others said he was finished when he started. It was just a matter
of time before he would be cut down.
If he were alive today, what would be his interests? Surely, the racism
that still exists, the spiraling prison population, hunger or the absence
of food – 28 million Americans need food stamps. He would be in
the middle of the issues raised by Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Internationally,
surely he would have opposed the war in Iraq. I am certain that the
crises in Darfur would be at the top of his agenda.
On April 4th at 1pm, we will be demonstrating at the China Mission,
protesting China’s support of the Sudanese government, which has
been accused of genocide or ethnic cleansing in Darfur, Sudan. The UN
has called the suffering in Darfur, Sudan, “the worse humanitarian
crisis in the world today. Reliable accounts consider it a Campaign
of Genocide, which since its beginnings in 2003 has resulted in over
400,000 deaths, an estimated 2.5 million refugees forced to flee the
country and others who have suffered rape, maiming, enslavement, destruction
of and confiscation of properties. This conflict is blight on the human
landscape and its horrors will continue until there is outside intervention.”
It is an Arab minority, who are reeking havoc upon the indigenous African
We are calling for a boycott of the 2008 Olympic Games to be held in
Beijing, China, on August 8 – 24th. Leaders of nations, celebrities,
and activists across the world have expressed unwillingness to participate
in the Olympic Games or at least not participate in the opening ceremonies
because of China’s military, financial and intelligence support
for the Sudanese government, the violation of human rights in China
and its policies toward Tibet.
If Dr. King was alive today, I have no doubt, he would be joining us
at the China Mission or we would be joining him. We are calling on everybody
to join us, in the spirit of Dr. King, in our protest at the China Mission
to save countless lives and establish peace.
We will commence the day at 8am with a breakfast at the Wayside Baptist
Church sponsored by the African American Clergy and Elected Officials,
Chaired by Rev. Waterman and Vice Chaired by Assemblywoman Annette Robinson.
Wayside Baptist Church is located at 1746-60 Broadway, Brooklyn, New
At 12 noon, we will assemble at the Sudanese Mission, located at 47th
Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues. From there, we walk over to the
Isaiah Wall, located at 42nd Street and 1st Avenue. After which, we
will walk over to the Chinese Mission located at 350 East 35th Street,
between 1st and 2nd Avenue for a rally from 1pm to 2pm.
For further information contact Brother Omar Wilks at (718) 596-1991
/ (719) 737-2184.