The “Reverend” Martin Luther King Jr. birthday celebration is here. I try not to refer to him as “Doctor” Martin Luther King Jr. because it does not reflect his ministry nor his calling. His doctoral degree was confirmed by man; his reverend status was called by God and recognized by man.
I don’t know when we stopped using “The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr.,” but I have noticed the title Reverend was dropped, and Doctor remained. Civil rights leaders have historically been Christian leaders as well. From Reverend John Brown, who raided Harpers Ferry, to Minister Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” the struggle for freedom was always lead by a spiritual calling.
The plans for escaping the plantation were organized and led by the slave pastor. It was natural for Rev. King’s march-planning meetings to be held in local churches. Historically, on the plantation the only place black folks could gather without with owners present was the Sunday morning church service. Today most leaders claiming to be fighting for civil rights are ministers, such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Minister Louis Farrakhan.
The Underground Railroad was started by the Wesleyan and Quaker Church. Homes owned by Jews and Christian made up the safe-houses on the Underground Railroad, and many of the slave revolts were led by Christian slaves like Nat Turner and Denmark Vesey. So the pedigree of Christian leadership and the recognitions of Gods’ guidance for liberty and freedom is well-established in this movement. So, why eliminate Reverend and highlight Doctor? Maybe there is an attempt to change the movement from Christian to worldly.
The slaves used Christian songs to communicate their plans to escape the plantation. Singing in the cotton fields made the work faster and easier. It provided a rhythmic cadence to keep the work moving, like an army marching in step keeps the troops moving. But the choice of song was often hiding a secret message: the plans of escape.
Therefore, as we memorialize this historical figure, let us also recognize what fueled his achievements. It was not his knowledge achieved in schools; it was a calling inspired by God the Almighty and led by the Holy Spirit. It was not his doctoral degree given by man; it was his spiritual leadership given by God.
Black people were not freed from bondage because of a political movement – it was a Christian movement. Those Union troops marched into battle singing “Glory, Glory Hallelujah, His truth is marching on” – and “His” truth was not that of Abraham Lincoln. This was recognizing God’s will in the freeing of the slaves. Long before the Emancipation Proclamation gave the Union a political reason to fight, Christian activists gave America a spiritual reason to fight.
It was the Rev. Henry Beecher who supplied arms to Kansas citizens in the fight to become a slave-free state. Beecher was a great influence on Abraham Lincoln, and so was his sister Harriett Beecher Stowe. Lincoln was quoted as saying that he thought there was “not upon record, in ancient or modern biography, so productive a mind, as had been exhibited in the career of Henry Ward Beecher.” These influences greatly impacted Lincoln’s steady hand in confronting slavery and preserving the Union.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was a preacher who saw an ungodly sickness in America. He recognized America could not continue successfully outside the will of God. Rev. King spoke to the conscience of America, and that moved America to change.
The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s was simply a revival; the church changed America. Rev. Martin Luther King’s birthday is a great time for America to recognize the healing and freeing power of God. The message of King and the Civil Rights Movement has not changed, and we would be a better nation if we understood that real message.
During the King holiday Monday, let’s honor him by honoring his ministry. I will go out and enjoy an activity won by his struggle. Maybe I will go to the local movie theater in my hometown that would not allow blacks to take a seat, except the “black seats” in the back of the theater. Or I could just stay home where I live now, which was a white-only part of the county back then.
Black folks should celebrate the life of Rev. King by going to work. Don’t take a day off work. It was because of jobs he went to Memphis, April 4, 1968. It was his upholding the right to work that made him a target of the assassination. He had a job – it was to advocate for black jobs, and that is why I have always worked on Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.