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Monday, April 15, 2024

Martin Luther King at 80

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Americans across the country are preparing to celebrate the annual holiday dedicated to the late activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

This year’s celebration, however, is especially significant because it marks what would have been King’s 80th birthday.

Given his monumental impact on society, it’s very tempting for some to specualte what King would have to say about important issues of our day.

This week the Recorder spoke with two individuals who knew King well; Dr. Thomas Brown and Rev. Derek King.

Brown is pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Indianapolis and was once an activist with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). His father, the late Dr. Andrew J. Brown, was a close friend of King and was very active in his movement. King spent a lot of time at the Brown residence during visits to Indianapolis.

Derek King, the nephew of Martin Luther King Jr., is currently a professor of religious studies at Martin University in Indianapolis. King maintains many special memories of his uncle, paritcilarly from family gatherings.

Here are their thoughts about what 80 year old Martin Luther King Jr. would have to say about today’s issues:

What would Dr. King’s reaction be to Barack Obama being elected the first African-American president?

Brown: He said, “I went to the mountaintop, and I won’t get there with you, but I’ve seen the promised land.” Look at what he was seeing that no one else could see. He understood America’s consciousness, but he knew the word and spirit of the time. During the time when Obama was born and being nurtured, King knew about it. He didn’t know Obama, but he knew God was doing things. And he said “I see it.” Martin would not be surprised by Obama’s victory. But he knew we would be surprised. Martin knew that we as a people had a lot of doubt, but he had no doubt in God and what was possible.

King: It’s hard to say how he would have reacted because he’s gone. But I can say that one of the things Dr. King dealt with was wanting to see America live up to the promises it has presented on paper through the Constitution and Bill of Rights. With Obama’s election he would say America has moved closer to meeting its promises for equal opportunity.

How would King enourage us to get through these difficult economic times?

Brown: Education. He would recommend us to start working together and not be so divided and cease our competition amongst each other. You see, like Martin, all Obama is calling for is unity and cooperation and unity, not competition.

King: Dr. King had a profound perspective on Black nationalism. Black folks, for whatever reason, without consistently high income levels and earning power, have done what other ethnic groups have done, and that’s maintain solidarity. Dr. King would probably say many of us have missed out on how to use our income-generating power and in some kind of way come into solidarity and say to America, “We are a force to be reckoned with.”

What kind of foreign policy recommendations would King give to Obama, especially as it relates conflicts in the Middle East and Africa?

Brown: Well, that’s simple and we already know the answer: Nonviolence. Martin would raise the same question posed by great, peacemakers like Ghandi and Thoreau raised, which is “Do we have to be violent to settle our differences?” Non-violence is the catch word that nobody’s saying anymore.

King: He would encourage all parties in a conflict to first sit down at the negotiating table and use all peaceful means possible to resolve disagreements. Dr. King would still be speaking out for peace and justice in every circumstance. He was very passionate against the outcome of war, including death and wasted resources.

What was Dr. King’s favorite kind of music, and how would he view today’s music?

Brown: Oh man, well you see Mama King played a pipe organ, so he was into those great spirituals. Gospel music had its place, but the spirituals and calming hymns best suited him. In the 40s and 50s the spirituals and hymns had their place in a typical worship service.

Dr. King would look at hip-hop and the upbeat contempary gospel as expressions of frustration and hope. When we used to sing the songs during the movement like “Can’t Nobody Turn Me Around” and “This Little Light of Mine” we were prepared to take some kind of action. We sang the song to get the energy to go out and march. The songs got us ready to act. Many of today’s songs don’t inspire much action.

King: I know he enjoyed church music, but he also liked to dance. One of the things that he knew is the power and enrgy that young people possessed as it relates to making change. Hip-hop itself is a movement that has had the possibility to create positive change. But it’s difficult to say how much an 80 year old man would be into today’s music.

During Dr. King’s time African-American churches were at the forefront of change, particularly the civil rights movement. Has the role of the church changed, and would Dr. King be proud of the progress churches have made?

Brown: He would say the progress of the Black church has been very materialistic. We have acquired the capacity to show our visible platitudes such as buildings and numbers, while at the same time more of our people are in poverty, less educated and involved in crime. The church has been a museum, but has not been a functional system of changing the lives and conditions of the oppressed. The Spirit of the Lord to liberate the oppressed and give sight to the blind is no logner there. He would say we are the new Pharisees.

King: He would have some concerns about the wealth of the Black church. Everybody in this economy has been struggling over the last year, but most churches are still able to raise a lot of money, and in my opinion a lot of it is not coming back to the community. On many issues of today churches are more silent than they were during King’s time.

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