Jan 8, 2011

The King Legacy

As part of Tom Butts’ speech concerning the legacy of Dr King I asked Tom if I could pass along our church’s friend’s remarks. Here are the words of Tom Butts MLK. Jr. Day speech a few years ago:

When Dr. King was killed he was in Memphis supporting a strike by one of the poorest and most humble classes of the working poor – garbage collectors. Some people thought he ought not to be there, but there he was. Near the end of his life he had become vocal about the Vietnam War. Many of his colleagues thought he should keep his attention focused on the original civil rights issue, but he saw a larger picture. Like all great leaders of every age, he saw the connection between war and poverty. His stand against the war not only brought a measure of displeasure and expressions of fear from his colleagues in the cause; it intensified the efforts of J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI to discredit Dr. King as a person and to weaken the movement as a whole. They tapped his telephone and had him followed wherever he went. They accused him of being a communist and a traitor. There was an FBI campaign to smear Dr. King and the Civil Rights movement. The Freedom of Information Act has subsequently revealed the extent of the sinister effort to destroy him.

In closing I want to say something personal to those of you who have been and may still be the victims of prejudice and oppression. I do not know your names or the circumstances through which you have lived, but I know you are out there. I look out at this congregation and realize there are many of you for whom life has been very difficult. You have been denied and deceived and treated like a "nobody." Some of you have tried to save and prepare for the education of your children or for your own old age, but something happened and you lost everything. Some of you have tried to do good and be "somebody" and you were mocked or ignored. I know of your frustration and pain, and I want to say to you that we stand in a tradition of faith that there is justice in the universal scheme of things in this world and/or the next. You may have been ignored, oppressed, or forgotten, but God has not forgotten you. The Bible (Isaiah 49:15-16) tells us that God has promised: "I will not forget you. Look, I have graven you on the palms of my hands." God will not forget you. Perhaps when you stand before the Great God Almighty, your scars will count for more than your successes.

In the traditional Christian ritual for "The Burial of the Dead," when the minister reads the closing words of the committal at the grave-side, just before the Kyrie Eleison, it is read: "I heard a voice from heaven saying to me: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them." The good that you have done, which may have gone unnoticed and unappreciated, will not be forgotten. In the farther reaches of time and eternity, the only thing that God forgets is the sin that God has forgiven; but the good you have done follows you in the silent memory of God. There is not much you can take with you when you leave this world. I have never seen a U-Haul vehicle in a funeral procession. You cannot take money, or fame, or land, or houses, or worldly honor; but the good you have done: it is yours forever because God remembers it.

Even the ancient philosophers, who had no particular religion, believed that death was the great leveler. Death is very democratic. Once when Diogenes was plundering around in a burial place, looking at the bones, Alexander the Great asked him what he was looking for. He said: "I am looking for the bones of your father, but I cannot distinguish the bones of your father from the bones of his slaves." There is a great day coming at which time all things will be made right. I believe that! But I also believe something else. Justice delayed is justice denied!

As we remember Dr. King may we remember that often those who offer the most resistance to change may not always be in the right.


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