Justice Is A Verb!
©Wendell Griffen, 2018
As people across the world commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. today, the feature editorial in today's issue of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newspaper chose to eulogize Dr. King rather than criticize injustice as he did. The editorial can be found at the link posted above. It focuses on Dr. King's prophetic Letter From Birmingham City Jail response to white moderate religionists in Birmingham who criticized Dr. King's presence and direct nonviolent civil disobedience challenges to racial segregation in Birmingham, Alabama. The editorial author chose to use the 50th anniversary of Dr. King's assassination to applaud Dr. King's eloquence and clarity in that letter penned from a jail cell.
Some observers will consider the editorial a fitting, if not flattering commentary. However, that is neither fair nor fitting to Dr. King's memory and ministry. Martin Luther King, Jr. did not die on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee because he penned the eloquent Letter From Birmingham City Jail in 1963. He was slain because he insisted and persisted in confronting the United States about its flagrant hypocrisy about and damning dedication to injustice. The Democrat-Gazette editorial dodged that subject, as if King's greatest contribution to humanity was being an eloquent scrivener. Dr. King's death should not be dismissed by flowery words about his eloquence, erudition, and rhetorical competence.
Fifty years after Dr. King was murdered, the giant evils of racism, militarism, and capitalist materialism he challenged with increasing alarm and anger during his last years should not be disregarded and discounted by resorting to eulogy. Respect for Dr. King's life and the way he died deserves much more than pleasant words about his skill as a communicator.
Fifty years after April 4, 1968, black, brown, red, and poor white people are routinely being slain by law enforcement agents in the US.
Immigrants are being mistreated.
Women and girls are being assaulted and subjected to other unfairness.
Voting rights are being undermined.
The air, water, and soil are being poisoned.
US war-making continues 50 years after the assassination of the prophet who courageously insisted that war-making is a human rights issue.
Fifty years after Dr. King was murdered in Memphis, workers are still being exploited in Memphis, Tennessee, Little Rock, Arkansas, Dallas, Texas, and elsewhere across the US.
Fifty years after Dr. King was slain, religionists of all stripes are still more interested in civic ceremonies than social justice.
Fifty years after Dr. King's voice was silenced, we should not be deceived when people eulogize Dr. King after they spent the last half century working against social justice. We should not accept shallow sentimentality as a substitute for societal repentance and a fierce insistence on doing justice.
Dr. King's memory and ministry deserve much more than sentimental eulogies from us. Justice is a verb, not a platitude.
Author, The Fierce Urgency of Prophetic Hope
Written from Memphis, TN
Hope Fiercely! Love Boldly!