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Pilgrimage for Democracy, Martin Luther King, and Work to be Done

Updated: May 27, 2021

By Christine Mason, CEI Executive Director

The President Reflects. President Obama in his Presidential Proclamation of Martin Luther King Day 2017 stated, “As we reflect on Dr. King’s legacy, we celebrate a man and a movement that transformed our country, and we remember that our freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of others. Given the causes he championed — from civil rights and international peace to job creation and economic justice — it is right that today we honor his work by serving others. Now more than ever, we must heed his teachings by embracing our convictions. We must live our values, strive for righteousness, and bring goodness to others. And at a time when our politics are so sharply polarized and people are losing faith in our institutions, we must meet his call to stand in another person’s shoes and see through their eyes. We must work to understand the pain of others, and we must assume the best in each other. Dr. King’s life reminds us that unconditional love will have the final word — and that only love can drive out hate. . .  In remembering Dr. King, we also remember that change has always relied on the willingness of our people to keep marching forward.”

“To Accept Passively an Unjust System...” As we pause on this day set aside to honor Dr. King, his voice as a sage with clear conviction and incredible courage rings loud and clear. In his book Stride towards Freedom (1958), King, in setting the premise for nonviolent protest, states, “To accept passively an unjust system is to cooperate with that system; thereby the oppressed become as evil as the oppressor. Noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. The oppressed must never allow the conscience of the oppressor to slumber. Religion reminds every man that he is his brother’s keeper. To accept injustice or segregation passively is to say to the oppressor that his actions are morally right. It is a way of allowing his conscience to fall asleep. At this moment the oppressed fails to be his brother’s keeper. ”

How Long Will Justice be Wounded? And in his Pilgrimage for Democracy speech in Atlanta on Dec. 15, 1963, King stated:

“So let us rise up and boldly make our determination clear. We must no longer submit to unjust practices. We must revolt peacefully, openly, and cheerfully because our aim is to persuade. . . There is probably a desperate question on the lips of you under the sound of my voice this afternoon. It is the poignant question that the Old Testament raised centuries ago. How long? How long will prejudice blind the visions of men, darken their understanding, and drive bright-eyed truth from her sacred throne? . . . How long will justice be wounded and left prostrate in the streets of our cities? How long will truth be crucified and goodness buried?”

Work Remains. That was 1963. Today in 2017, much work remains as hatred needs to be turned around and undone.  Gordon Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness,  a collection of essays that “holds in tension ‘Be Still!’ (Psalm 46) and what Elie Wiesel and Walter Brueggemann describe as ‘collective madness’ provides some additional insight. In his blogpost, Martin Luther King Day ‘“ 2017 | Views from the Edge, Stewart states:

“Martin Luther King Day 2017, just days before the inauguration, asks all Americans what kind of nation we want to be ‘” one that chooses to put out the lights of its real luminaries or a nation that, having seen a bright star on a dark night, walks forward with pink knit hats toward a compassionate dream worth living and dying for.”

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