These are the remarks that I made at the opening of the service of commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at St. Paul’s Cathedral, Buffalo on Wednesday April 4, 2018
I am honored to be here tonight as we commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I am pleased to welcome everyone to St. Paul’s Cathedral.
I am always honored to be on the same platform with Bishop Pridgen. Bishop Pridgen combines the roles of religious and political leadership in a way that always reminds me of one of the things that inspired me about Dr. King, that the message of our faith requires that we work for justice & equality in all parts of our lives and in whatever spheres we move in.
I am honored to share this service tonight with leaders from many faiths and many parts of the Western New York community. With people who also bring the messages of their faiths and the imperative to work for justice & equality to all parts of their lives and all the spheres that they move in.
In some ways it is difficult to believe that is has been 50 years since that day in April 1968 when the world was stunned by the violent death of the man who Walter Cronkite called on that day “the apostle of non-violence.” So many of the issues of poverty and discrimination, of justice and equality that were facing us then are still facing us today.
In other ways it is difficult to believe that it has only been 50 years. The movement that Martin Luther King, Jr. and others set in motion has changed the United States and indeed the whole world for the better in so many ways.
It seems to be the truth of our world, that whenever someone speaks up, whenever someone or some group of people, try to move the world in the direction of justice and equality, in the direction of good, the forces of evil are right there working to keep the world the same.
As some of you know, I grew up in the Mississippi Delta in the 50’s and early 60’s. I can testify to what Dr. King called “the stinging darts of segregation.” I observed them as a child.
Reflecting back on those times it is clear to me how deeply segregation deprived every one of us of what our lives could have been.
If only the African Americans in my town had been allowed to fully embrace the opportunities and the life of freedom promised to all Americans.
If only we had had the courage to be a part of the life of the whole community without earning the scorn of our neighbors.
I remember vividly smelling the tear gas in the air when I went to the University of Mississippi for the 8th grade science fair just days after James Meredith had enrolled.
I remember vividly seeing the racist bill boards that lined the roads in our town.
I remember vividly how the KKK showed up at my grandmother’s house when, inspired by Dr. King, she had been hosting dinners at her home for her white neighbors and African American friends and the KKK ordered her to keep her mouth shut. My grandmother had the strength of character and the protection of her position to defy them.
I remember visiting the Delta at the time of my mother’s death in 2013 and seeing how little had changed from those times.
As many of you know, before I was a Bishop, before I was a priest, I was a professor of Church History.
I focused much of my study on Christian Humanism, the movement that connected the teachings of Christ with the humanities.
One of the readings that reflects Christian Humanism in the modern world is Dr. King’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail.
In it he says, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Let that be our song and motto as we carry Dr. King’s vision into our world today. There can be no justice as long as injustice and inequality are allowed to thrive in parts of our society. There can be no justice as long as injustice and inequality are allowed to thrive in parts of our city.
We must claim justice and the equity that underlies it as our goal and aim.
Thank you for coming tonight and thank you for raising your voice for justice.