This spring marks the fiftieth anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assaination in Memphis, TN—April 4, 1968.
Today is his birthday—January 15, 1929.
Writing a worthy tribute of such a man feels is impossible. After all he was not just one man, he was many. So let me simply say I am in a deep process of growing in my understanding and gratitude for Rev. Dr. King. Therefore my words today may perhaps be much more about me than him—forgive me for that.
As a child my awareness of Dr. King's life and influence was limited to American History lessons and a day off of school. He was an American history figure. In my teenage and college years the importance of his work became increasingly clear to me as a champion of civil rights and desegregation in the south. He was an African-American hero. In my adult years I read more about his life's heartbeat of peace. He was a prophet of peace. Now as I pastor in Chicago Dr. King has become a blueprint for me of courageous homiletics—he was a preacher I now desire to emulate.
So who is he ... ?
Well, I've come to realize that every season and perspective are each a part of the whole. Dr. King is all of these men. Therefore it is right to consider each and their sum today, avoiding the modern habit of conservative and progressive circles to choose one man over and against all others. He is an American hero. He is a champion of justice for African-Americans. He is a peacemaker. He is a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ who changed the course of Church History—a preacher!
Not only so, but he is also many more men than I know. I am learning his impact across multiple cultures and ethnicities—beyond white and black. I am learning of his work behind the scene as much as in the spotlight. I am learning of his personal friendship.
Today in fact I had the chance with some of my colleagues from church to visit the Chicago History Museum. We viewed a sobering exhibit featuring a timeline of his life and impact. And we watched a one-woman play weaving the themes and achievement of his life up to their impact in modern-day. It was stirring. It was unsettling. It was beautiful.
I have much more to learn. We all do I'm sure. So I invite you to get to know this man beyond a single avenue of appreciation. Perhaps your appreciation, like mine, has been limited. To be sure my friends have been my greatest teachers. But here are a few resources that have helped me along the way ...
- I Have a Dream: Writings and Speeches That Changed the World
- Letters From a Birmingham Jail
- Letters to a Birmingham Jail: A Response to the Words and Dreams of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
- "I've Been to the Mountaintop" Speech
- Chicago History Museum: MLK Day Schedule