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Can words end racism in our country?

 Probably not, but they can be an important start once we are through listening.

Martin Luther King Jr didn’t have wealth, didn’t lead a large organisation that helped the poor and didn’t hold a high office. He never asked us for money or a vote. Because we knew he cared about the least of us, we still listen to him long after he was jailed and later killed. He found the right words.

He told us:

“Only in the darkness can you see the stars.” 

We are in dark times.  He went on to show us a path.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” MLK Jr

“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.” MLK Jr

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” MLK Jr

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” MLK Jr

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”  MLK Jr


Martin Luther King Jr started to threaten some of us when he talked of sharing. We still have many in our country who feel that sharing is hard working people having to turn over their tax dollars to the undeserving.

Martin  knew that we will never have racial and social justice until there is economic and criminal justice. He also knew that he was drifting away from the abstract and into the target area of entrenched interests.

Martin Luther King Jr was a pain in the neck to a lot of important people. When he addressed economical injustice, some people thought something had to be done to counter his message.

“Any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them is a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial.”

When Dr King  talked about economic justice for all, the dark clouds started to engulf him. It was only when he proposed compassionate action be taken that he was deemed inappropriate.

“Capitalism does not permit an even flow of economic resources. With this system, a small privileged few are rich beyond conscience, and almost all others are doomed to be poor at some level. That’s the way the system works. And since we know that the system will not change the rules, we are going to have to change the system.” 

“In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, as ‘right-to-work.’ It provides no ‘rights’ and no ‘works.’ Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining… We demand this fraud be stopped.”

Dr. King decried poverty and injustice whether it was a white farmer or a black laborer. This drew the ire of black nationalists and those white politicians who were opposed to uniting workers. They sent messengers out to spread hateful images of Dr King.

For us to honor this man we must work toward the justice that he sought for all. We must stand up, speak loudly and firmly but always with respect for others, and be wary of those who ask us to hate. It isn’t easy.

Dr Martin Luther King Jr had strong convictions for which he was willing to risk everything.

We have a fresh new wave of brave voices speaking out . They know the risk. They will need our words and support.

We are all trying to find the right words.

I think that everybody has a right to their own opinions, no matter how ill informed they are. I have very strong opinions on the events that have led to today’s worldwide protests against racism and violent police actions.. Murder is murder. Inequality is inequality. Equal opportunity is equal opportunity. Equal justice for all means justice for all. When the subject turns to racism in America I have formed  some opinions.  Racism sickened me when I observed it as a child. I was in the room when adults discussed how to keep Jews and Negroes out of the neighborhood. Collectively they could protect themselves from contamination by others. They wanted to preserve their way of life. To do this they had to silently designate others as less deserving of God’s grace and protection. My schoolmates were my friends and looked just like me. We were kind to each other. Most of my pals thought like their parents. They were granted privileges and were proud to be white Protestant males. For some reason I didn’t buy into this thinking because I knew as a fact that I was less than exceptional. There were soldiers of all walks of life and colors more honorable. There were jazz musicians more clever and there was Albert Einstein, there was Mother Theresa, there was Gandhi, and there was Paul Robeson. I listened to Paul Robeson sing  Ballad for America over and over. I was not special and maybe my friends were not so special, but I never told them that. Did I mention Joe Louis and Marion Anderson? They seemed to a young boy to have more substance and force than the auto executives and real estate brokers who advanced their schemes to keep the status quo.

Later in life I discovered that others had shared my distaste for the prevalent racist ideas of the 1950s. They vowed not to return  to our racist hometown. We would take actions that would distance us from being connected to racist thinking, but we did little to change the lives of those that had been affected by racism. Why didn’t we?

Is it too late to add my voice?

It is almost 70 years later and I still am unsure what I should be doing. I am unsure of what I can say after being silent for so long. I have no idea what my friends of color would want to hear from me, but here goes.

I have no personal experiences that would give me insight into the hurt others have had to endure, in part because of my silence. I have not done enough to actively support change. Those who have suffered day after day from a foot on their neck seldom laid their pain on my back. They had learned to mute their anger when confronted with hardship and injustice. I have been blessed with their friendship and love. Sometimes I can hear some pleas for understanding when I really listen.

I was invited to St Luke’s Baptist Church in Jonestown, Mississippi  for the Sunday Service.

No sooner than I entered I had  an arm around my back and was gently placed not by myself but next to the mother of a large family of active children. I soon had a friend that welcomed me. When Rev Sykes started his message of greeting, he paused and pointed out that there was a new face in the congregation. He said, “You know who it is.” It was my white face. He added something that has stayed with me since that day. “We know what it is like to be excluded. We know what it is like to be excluded and not to be loved. We know that this is not right. You are welcome and you are loved.” I was given a serious nudge and lifted up to speak. I don’t remember what I said.

The service was long and meaningful. It wa a combination of a church service, music festival  and community meeting. It was long with kids wandering around from welcoming arms to welcoming arms. There was powerful preaching and tender moments. Everyone and everything was given some attention including the mayor’s new recycling plans. Everyone was encouraged to raise their voices to God and be heard.

If only we can find the words. 

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”  MLK Jr

John Osler

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