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Ethics & Religion
Column #1,900
January 18, 2018
Martin Luther King's Last Sermon
By Mike McManus

Fifty years ago this spring, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. He gave his last sermon on March 31 at the National Cathedral, days before his death.

I lived in Montgomery, Alabama where King achieved his first victory. It was difficult. Negroes had to sit in the back of the bus. But Rosa Parks, a leader of the NAACP, intentionally sat in the white section on Dec. 1, 1955. She was arrested.

King called for a "Bus Boycott," a refusal by blacks to ride buses on Dec. 5. That day 90% of blacks boycotted the buses. Thousands of women walked miles to white neighborhoods to be maids.

That night King and other black leaders organized the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) and elected King President. He told them, "I want it to be known that we're going to work with grim and bold determination to gain justice on the buses of this city."

"And we are not wrong...If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong. If we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong." On Dec. 8, MIA demanded passengers be served on first-come, first-served seating for all.

The demand was refused, so black residents stayed off buses for the whole year of 1956. An intricate car pool system of 300 cars helped many. But I remember seeing black maids trudging long distances.

King's home was bombed. He declared, "Be calm as I am and my family are. We are not hurt and remember that if anything happens to me, there will be others to take my place." City officials obtained injunctions against MIA and King was tried and convicted and ordered to pay a $500 fine or serve 386 days in jail.

Pacifist Bayard Rustin visited Montgomery and offered King advice on how to apply Ghandian principles of nonviolent protest. King said, "Christ showed us the way, and Gandhi in India showed it could work." A Federal Court ruled that bus segregation was unconstitutional, and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld that decision. On Dec. 20 King called off the boycott and joined other blacks to board desegregated buses.

King asserted, "We came to see that, in the long run, it is more honorable to walk in dignity than ride in humiliation. So we decided to substitute tired feet for tired souls."

King's leadership in the Bus Boycott elevated him to a national leader of what became the Civil Rights Revolution. His march from Selma to Montgomery was attacked by police and state troopers. But marchers did not fight back, remaining peaceful. The result was passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act which gave Negroes their first political opportunity.

In his National Cathedral sermon, King said, "Racial injustice is still the black man's burden and the white man's shame." He recalled that in 1863 the Negro was told that he was free as a result of the Emancipation Proclamation. But he was not given any land to make that freedom meaningful...It left him there penniless, illiterate, not knowing what to do."

King said, "I was in Marks, Mississippi, the other day, in the poorest county in the United States. I saw hundreds of little black boys and black girls walking the streets with no shoes to wear. And I was in Harlem just this week. I walked into the homes of welfare mothers. I saw them not with wall-to-wall carpeting but wall-to-wall rats and roaches. This welfare mother said, "The landlord will not repair this place." She showed me holes where the rats came in. She said, "Night after night we stay awake to keep the rats and roaches from getting to the children."

King announced, "We are coming to Washington in a Poor People's Campaign. Yes, we are going to bring the tired, the poor, the huddled masses....We are coming to demand that the government address itself to the problem of poverty. We read one day, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by the Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

But if a man doesn't have a job or an income, he has neither Life nor Liberty nor the possibility for the Pursuit of Happiness. He merely exists."

On the night before his assassination, King declared, "I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to that promised land... I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."

(This is my 1,900th weekly column.)

Copyright (c) 2018 Michael J. McManus, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers. For previous columns go to Hit Search for any topic.

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