When I think of the brief and intense life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I remember this haunting little verse by Edna St. Vincent Millay:
"My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends –
It gives a lovely light!"
He was not yet forty, in the prime of his life, when he was gunned down in Memphis, Tennessee by a hired assassin. They intended to be rid of this trouble-maker, this disturber of the peace, who dared to question and threaten our traditional way of life. Kill the leader and the movement will die. So, they killed him. And, he was not yet forty years old.
But, what a terrible miscalculation they made. He would not stay dead. He became more powerful in death than in life. His dream bloomed into a reality that surpassed even the most hopeful expectation anyone had if he had lived. He has returned like “Banquo’s Ghost” (a character in William Shakespeare’s 1606 play Macbeth) to haunt all the banquets of racism. There is a sense in which the death of Martin Luther King did for the Civil Rights movement what the death of Lincoln did to bind a post-Civil War nation together.
Martin Luther King, Jr. is more alive today than ever before. Hundreds of thousands of people across this nation will meet and march this week to celebrate his life and commit themselves to the ideals for which he lived and died. His birthday has become a national holiday. Big cities and little towns all over the nation have schools and streets and avenues and boulevards and expressways named after him. We have one of the best known and well respected celebrations here in Arlington. Not only should we thank Don Pike and Charles Wade for all they did to inaugurate it, but also thanks goes Rev. Andy Mangum for his tireless effort to continue the work. May we give a prayer of thanks for what Martin Luther King means to us and to those who keep the flame alive.