I grew up in a Christian home and a community where Dr. Martin Luther King’s picture hung on many grandparents’ walls and his sermon messages were often repeated. His messages articulated hope, in a time of hopelessness. We went to church every Wednesday and twice on Sunday, where we frequently heard sermons on the fact that all men were created equal, along with gospel sermons about the cross of Jesus. In retrospect, I suppose the frequency of the former was because as black people it was a foregone conclusion that the cross and salvation applied to all ethnicities; not so for equality. In our little southern African American church, we needed to be reminded that God loved all men regardless of color, because outside of our church, all across the nation, for years, we heard a different message. While we didn’t believe this message of inferiority, we lived with the implications of it on a daily basis.
I remember begging my mother to let me take high school senior class pictures. She had refused because they were being taken by a company that she despised. She reluctantly shared with me how from this same company she had been solicited by phone to purchase a family photo session. It was a deal she couldn’t pass up. They would come to your home to take the pictures and they had a special promotion that made it affordable. She had dressed my brother and I, early, on the morning of the appointment, combed our hair, which was no easy feat, and locked the doors so we wouldn’t go outside and get dirty before the photographer arrived. When she opened the door and saw the shock on the man’s face, she realized his mistake. While she knew he was white, he had not realized she was black when speaking to her on the phone. Our address was not in the black neighborhood. Almost 15 years later, the memory of rejection still brought tears to my mother’s eyes.
Thankfully these constant messages of inequality were not the sentiment of all Americans, and in our home, Martin Luther King was proof of this. As a pastor and public voice, His understanding of scripture, and the human condition of sin, allowed him to bring together people from all walks of life for the purpose of living out God’s principles of love.
As people of all denominations, races and socioeconomic backgrounds joined his nonviolent movement, my parents began to believe Dr. King’s dream of unity could be realized, and therefore, so did I. After all unity wasn’t just a dream, it was a command from God’s Word.
It was a command for which Dr. King was willing to die. From the 1950’s until that fateful day in 1968, Dr. King received constant death threats. Yet he persevered. The Bible says there is no greater love than this that a man would lay down his life for a friend. As Christians we can be thankful that in spite of the fatal risks, with eternity in view, he dedicated his life to the pursuit of unity that is increasingly expressed in the diversity we experience in our Christian churches and organizations today.