April 4 marks the 50th anniversary of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, to whom local faith and nonprofit groups will pay tribute to the slain civil rights leader at 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 7 at Bethlehem Baptist Church. I will attend. It is important to recognize that 50 years later our society still struggles with racial and economic injustice that Dr. King gave his life to change.
This is an auspicious time to commemorate this anniversary, as the loss of this great man to gun violence parallels the epidemic of gun violence plaguing our communities today. His nine-year-old granddaughter, Yolanda Renee King, spoke at the March for Our Lives event last weekend, which attracted over 800,000 people in D.C. and about 7 million people worldwide. Despite the incredible size of the event, I ran into many members of our community marching down Pennsylvania Avenue on that historic day, returning to Mount Vernon and Lee passionately ignited by this experience, with the realization that inaction is no longer an option if we want to do anything about the scourge of gun violence.
King recognized that while we can’t pass laws that will make people get along and accept each other, we can and should pass laws to protect people from the threat of violence, gun-related or otherwise. He said in a 1966 speech at Southern Methodist University that “It may be true that morality can’t be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. It may be that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can restrain him from lynching me.”
While many people know of Dr. King’s heroic efforts to promote civil rights for black Americans, most people don’t realize that he was a strong advocate for our Union brothers and sisters, American Indians and for all the poor and oppressed. Indeed, King was supporting striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tenn. when he was assassinated.
He also said in his 1961 address to the AFL-CIO, “The labor movement did not diminish the strength of the nation but enlarged it by raising the living standards of millions, labor miraculously created a market for industry and lifted the whole nation to undreamed-of levels of production. Those who attack labor forget these simple truths, but history remembers them.”
It is important also to commend Dr. King for his recognition of the tragic treatment of our continent’s Indigenous people. In his 1963 book, “Why We Can’t Wait,” King noted that colonial European’s slaughter of American Indians began as soon as they reached these shores.
“Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race. Even before there were large numbers of Negroes on our shores, the scar of racial hatred had already disfigured colonial society. Indeed, even today we have not permitted ourselves to feel remorse for this shameful episode. Our literature, our films, our drama, our folklore all exalt it.”
Please consider attending this tribute to the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s death on April 4, 1968, put on by Ventures in Community (VIC), a local coalition of faith communities and nonprofits, at 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 7, at Bethlehem Baptist Church, 7836 Fordson Road, Alexandria.
The event features essays by high school students answering the question, “How to End Racism in America: What Would Dr. King Do?” Three local church choirs will perform, and all in attendance will be asked to recommit to ending racism. Finally an informal cookie-and-punch reception will follow. The event is free and open to all.
The commemoration is sponsored by Ventures in Community, a community group of about 60 faith communities, nonprofits, and county agencies in the south county area formed 45 years ago to provide volunteer support to the hypothermia shelter at Rising Hope Methodist Mission Church. It holds monthly meetings, which I attend, and sponsors other events, including this choir concert to celebrate the life of Dr. King. See VIC on Facebook and follow me on Facebook at Paul Krizek for Virginia for more information.