24 August 2013

The Beloved Community

Today is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s March on Washington and his “I Have A Dream” speech, perhaps the most important speech delivered in the history of the civil rights movement.  One of the today’s highlights was Rep. John Lewis’s speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial; he also spoke at the 1963 march.  

Since marching with King 50 years ago, Lewis has never quit fighting for civil rights for all.  He must be exhausted, but he never gives up the fight. He’s such an inspiration and he knows how far we’ve come, yet how far we still have to go, especially in this chilling time when voters’ rights are under attack and we seem to be moving backwards in some ways. Lewis’s own history with voter suppression is well-documented. Because of his race, he couldn’t register in his native Alabama, so he waited until he went to Tennessee for college. He’s spoken eloquently about his family members having to take literacy tests. 

“I’m not going to stand by and let the Supreme Court take the right to vote away from us,” Lewis said, exhorting the next generation to “push and pull to make America what it should be for all of us.”

Everyone who marched with MLK Jr. has stood in his shadow, but Lewis has made remarks that are just as powerful as MLK’s. Here are a few of my favorite over the decades: 

My favorite one is a short, pointed call to action. It’s only 10 words, but it speaks volumes. 

“If not us, then who?
If not now, then when?”
Simple, and yet so hard to put into practice... 

I’ve given to many civil rights organizations already, including the MLK Center, the NAACP, the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Law, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and several others, and since I don't want to repeat myself, I think my searching led me to another good one that I’d never heard of before: The A. J. Muste Memorial Institute, which has be promoting non-violence and social justice since 1974. Muste, a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church,  was a pacifist and civil rights leader. He worked with, according to the Institute’s website, Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), as well as the War Resisters League. According to his biography, near his death at age 82 in 1967, he was still fighting the good fight, standing outside the White House every day with a candle to protest the Vietnam War. 

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