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Ethics & Religion
January 21, 2016
Column #1,795
Martin Luther King: A Christian Hero
By Mike McManus

I lived in Montgomery, Alabama where the Civil Rights Revolution began when Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus on December 1, 1955.

I was 14 and unaware that on December 4 Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., a 26-year-old local pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and other Negro pastors, called for a "Bus Boycott" by all black riders. Some 42,000 Negro bus riders boycotted the system the next day.

Initially, their demands were modest - not an end to segregated seating, but hiring of black drivers and a first-come first-seated policy with whites seated up front, and blacks from the rear.

I remember seeing hundreds of Negro maids trudging miles on foot from their homes to work. Blacks organized car pools and Negro taxis charged only 10 cents, the bus fare.

On June 5, 1956 a Montgomery federal court ruled that any law requiring racially segregated seating on buses violated the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, adopted in 1868 after the Civil War. It guarantees all citizens, regardless of race, equal rights and equal protection. The city appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court which upheld the lower court decision on Dec. 21, 1956, and the boycott ended. It had lasted 381 days.

Six days before the decision was announced, King preached a sermon: "Always be sure that you struggle with Christian methods and Christian weapons. Do not succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter. As you press on for justice be sure to move with dignity and discipline, using only the weapon of love. Let no man pull you so low as to hate him. Always avoid violence. If you succumb to the temptation of using violence in your struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness."

He acknowledged that "Honesty impels me to admit that such a stand will require willingness to suffer and sacrifice. So don't despair if you are condemned and persecuted for righteousness sake...Often you will be called an impractical idealist or a dangerous radical. Sometimes it might mean going to jail."

Indeed, on January 30 King's home was bombed as were four black churches by KKK members who were later arrested. "That brought moral and financial support," King wrote in an early article.

Though I delivered Montgomery newspapers and read them, I was unaware of King's leadership role. Sadly, he simply wasn't covered by the white press.

The Bus Boycott was America's first mass protest on behalf of civil rights. King emerged as the national leader of what became the Civil Rights Movement.

His leadership was challenged by other black leaders at the time, such as Malcolm X, a member of the Nation of Islam. Like King, Malcolm X was a brilliant orator, but he sneered at King's emphasis on nonviolence - especially loving white people who mistreated black people: "Whoever heard a revolution where they lock arms...singing `We Shall Overcome'? Just tell me. You don't do that in a revolution. You don't do any singing. You are too busy swinging."

Fortunately, Malcolm X never had more than a handful of followers. King did lead a revolution with a clear Christian vision. A few days after the Supreme Court decision, King explained his strategy in a magazine, "The Christian Century."

"First, this is not a method for cowards; it does resist. The nonviolent resister is just as strongly opposed to the evil," as a person who uses violence. "But his mind and emotions are always active, constantly seeking to persuade the opponent that he is mistaken."

Secondly, "nonviolent resistance does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding." Third, "the attack is directed against the forces of evil rather than against persons caught in those forces...The tension in this city is not between white people and Negro people. The tension is at bottom between justice and injustice."

He asserted that "At the center of nonviolence stands the principle of love" which is not some "sentimental emotion." He explained, "It is the love of God working in the lives of men, not because we like them, but because God loves them, loving the person who does the evil deed while hating the deed he does."

"Finally, nonviolence is based on the conviction that the universe is on the side of justice...Good Friday may reign for a day, but ultimately it must give way to the triumphant beat of the Easter drums. Christ will rise up and split history into A.D. and B.C."

Today a statue of King - not Malcom X - looks toward the Jefferson Memorial.

Copyright (c) 2016 Michael J. McManus, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers.

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