When a person dies, memories have a way of becoming foggy. Especially if the death is a tragic one, it is almost like the person gets wrapped in gauze. In our memories, they get transformed to the point that they seem almost to be mythic superheroes.

It seems to me that happened to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We almost forget that he was a human being with the strengths and weaknesses that we all have, the impact being that, rather than dealing with the problems with racism that we still face, we instead fault current leaders because none of them quite measure up to his high standards or has the eloquence or respectability or wisdom he had.

And we also almost forget that he was not so popular when he was alive, with three quarters of Americans, according to one poll at one point in the 1960’s, disagreeing with him, including his “I Have a Dream” March on Washington. Indeed, he was under surveillance by the FBI, as was his wife following him. That surveillance was not motivated by the desire to protect a national treasure. It was motivated by the sense that he, that his wife, that the movement for civil rights in which they were leaders was dangerous, which of course, was correct. It was and it is dangerous to point out the inequality that exists in this country based on race—an inequality of opportunity, an inequality before the law. As some have pointed out, when you visit the memorial to Dr. King in Washington, DC, you will find many quotes from his sermons and speeches, but none of them really mention segregation or racism and how Dr. King saw these realities mixed into the injustice of police brutality, poverty, and the Vietnam War—an omission that is amazing!

I think that we would do much better trying to remember Dr. King as he really was. He was a human being much like the rest of us. He was controversial in his time, and he was a part of a larger movement that continues, holding up a mirror that uncomfortably makes us confront the ongoing realities of racism and privilege that continue to hold us captive.

–Pastor Don Steele



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