Today the church remembers a martyr and visionary, Saint Martin Luther King, Jr., Dreamer of Dreams and Movement Maker.
Born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1929, Saint Martin was a brilliant young scholar who could have studied anything, literally anything, and chose the ministry as his life’s pursuit. At Crozer Theological Seminary he studied Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence, and was greatly moved and impacted by the thought that social change could happen through determination and will, not force.
He received his Ph.D from Boston University in 1955, and started his ministry at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. From there he organized his first social action: a challenge to the racial segregation of public busses, a continuation of the defiance of Rosa Parks and her refusal to give up her seat, and her dignity, to white privilege.
Within a year, due to the organizing efforts of the Montgomery Improvement Association, the busses were desegregated. But not before Saint King’s home was bombed and family was threatened.
In 1960 Saint Martin brought his family to Atlanta where he became co-pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, sharing the pulpit with his father. In October of that year he was arrested for protesting the segregation of a lunch counter in Atlanta, and in spring of 1963 he was once again arrested in a campaign to end similar segregation in Birmingham, Alabama. The movement withstood dog attacks, fire hoses, police brutality, political sabotage, and a deafening quiet from “respectable religious circles.”
It was from this vantage that he assumed the mantle of the Apostle Paul and wrote from prison what I believe to be his seminal work, Letter from Birmingham Jail, a piece of inspired literature that should be read in communities of faith every year alongside Corinthians, Thessalonians, and Colossians.
Quietism has no place in the church.
On August 28th, 1963 two hundred thousand people marched on Washington in support of The Civil Rights act. It was here that Saint Martin joined Saint Joseph of Egypt and Saint Joseph of Nazareth, all dreamers, telling of his dream that all people will be judged by the content of their character, and not the color of their skin.
In 1964 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace.
King went on to speak out against the war in Vietnam, and took on the case of the poor and the working class in America.
In 1968 he traveled to Tennessee to support striking sanitation workers and, on this day that year, was shot dead by a sniper outside his motel balcony.
Saint Martin’s birthday is honored every year in America, but the church reserves the right to commemorate his feast day alongside the other great martyrs of the church: on the day of his death. We do this not to be morbid or to glorify death, but to rightly honor that often speaking truth to power has consequences.
And yet, speak we must.
Saint Martin Luther King, Jr is a reminder for me, and should be for all people, that non-violent resistance has been so threatening to the powers of the world that they would use violence to snuff it out. And yet the movement continues…you cannot stop a movement based in love and justice.
Let those with ears to hear, hear.
-historical bits from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations
-icon written by Kelly Latimore