Thursday, January 17, 2008

Growing up in the wake of Dr. King

As the remembrance of the life and work of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. approaches, I realized that I am of the generation that was born after Dr. King’s death. At the same time, those in my generation grew up in the shadow of his life. What we were taught about issues of race and equality were in many ways a result of the efforts of Dr. King and his contemporaries. As I approach my 39th birthday, I am stunningly aware that Dr. King was assassinated at the age of 39. God used him to begin to change the heart of a nation. For those my age and younger, it might be helpful for us to learn about the man who had the dream.

Episcopal priest Gurdon Brewster recently completed his memoir, No Turning Back: My Summer with Daddy King. Brewster tells the story of his experience in the summer of 1961, when, as a young seminarian, he worked at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, home to Martin Luther King, Jr. and his extraordinary father, popularly known as “Daddy King.” Recalling the summer that changed his life, Brewster describes his first encounters with segregation, as well as his rediscovery of the true meaning of the gospel.

Another veteran of that struggle, Vincent Harding, a Mennonite and professor of religion, has published a timely assessment of King’s vision and its relevance for today. Martin Luther King: The Inconvenient Hero urges readers not to be content with the “safe” and domesticated hero most often identified with his stirring speech, “I Have a Dream.” Instead Harding invokes the increasingly radical message of King in his later years, as he took on the status quo at every level. Against the advice of his advisors, Dr. King expanded his message of global non-violence and widened his alliance with the cause of all poor and oppressed peoples. It was this vision that brought him to Memphis in 1968, where he paid the final price for his prophetic witness.

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