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On the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death

Written by LOPPW | 04/23/2018

On the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, faith groups rally to combat systemic racism   

On the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s murder, one of the activist pastors who has tried to follow in his footsteps spoke of the task at hand after half a century.

“We cannot be those who merely love the tombs of the prophets,” said the Rev. William Barber II. “We do not celebrate assassinations and killings of our prophets. We find the place they fell; we reach down in the blood; we pick up the baton and carry it forward. And we must.”

Religious activists — mostly Christian, but some non-Christian — commemorated King’s death in that spirit on Wednesday: with pledges to carry on his work of tackling systemic racism at memorial events in Washington, Memphis, Atlanta and other cities.

In Memphis, the location of King’s assassination, his children Bernice King and Martin Luther King III spoke Tuesday night at Mason Temple Church of God in Christ. “It’s important to see two of the children who lost their daddy 50 years ago to an assassin’s bullet,” said Bernice King, now 55. “But we kept going.”

Civil rights activists including the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rep. John Lewis were planning to remember King in that city during an event on Wednesday evening. In Atlanta, King’s hometown, bells will ring at his grave site at the moment when he was shot 50 years ago.

As dawn broke at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in D.C., the Rev. Dawn Sanders offered one of the first prayers of the day.

“King’s blood calls out to us. And what are we prepared to do? We thank you, God, for all that will be said and done. But we will not leave here without You pricking our consciousness,” she said.

Hundreds of people had gathered ahead of the daylong event organized by the National Council of Churches, a network of 38 mostly progressive denominations — white and black — as well as several major African American Christian umbrella groups and the largest American Jewish denomination, among others. While they walked the cherry-tree-lined mile from the Memorial to the Mall in prayerful silence, their T-shirts and buttons, posters and banners and clerical garb proclaimed their faith: “Methodists United Against Racism.” “Catholics Against Racism.” “Quakers United Against Racism.” “Do Justice, Love Mercy, March Proudly.” “God’s work. Our hands.” “Do all the good you can.” “Racism is a sin.”

Texas megachurch Pastor Frederick Haynes compared the day after the 2016 presidential election to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. That morning, he said, America “woke up to the eclipse of decency, honesty, and integrity. And now we are in the chaotic darkness of racism and military madness and…greed…because we have not responded to Martin Luther King.”

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, the founders of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, summarized the ways their lives would have been different if they were black — from the houses their families were able to buy, to the bank loans they received, to the punishments they avoided for crimes like marijuana possession. They concluded that they never would have been able to found their ice cream company. “There is this myth that the government isn’t responsible for wealth disparity and therefore isn’t responsible for fixing it. But we know now, the shape of our world then and now isn’t an accident. They are a result of deliberate government policy. It’s a fact and not debatable,” Cohen said. “The point isn’t that there would be no Cherry Garcia or Chunky Monkey. The point is there are millions of black and brown people who have been screwed.”

Eric McLauglin, 14, came to the rally with his cousin and his grandmother Sheila Carson Carr, an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner in Ward 7. The trio go to many protests and rallies these days. McLaughlin suggested attending this one after he heard a talk in school yesterday about John Lewis and Barack Obama.