On Monday, our nation will celebrate the life and legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Our community’s celebration will be held at 7 p.m. in Viterbo University’s Fine Arts Center Main Theater. Everyone is welcome, as we invigorate our community spirit through music and fellowship.
Andre Johnson from the Memphis Theological Seminary will deliver the evening’s keynote address — “From a Dream to a Mountain Top and Beyond: Martin Luther King Jr. and the African American Prophetic Tradition.”
Johnson has researched and written about Henry McNeal Turner, who was an author himself, a civil rights activist, 12th bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the first black man to hold the position of chaplain in the U.S. Army.
For 12 years, Turner served as chancellor of Morris Brown University in Atlanta, but when the U.S. Supreme Court declared the Civil Rights Act of 1866 unconstitutional, he grew increasingly disillusioned by the racial discrimination blacks encountered in the United States.
Later in life, Turner advocated emigration to Africa as black Americans’ best hope for equality.
King’s leadership during the civil rights movement brought white Americans to accept black Americans as equal citizens in society. When King was murdered in Memphis, Tenn., in 1968, he wasn’t there to visit the Theological Seminary where Johnson teaches. Rather King was there to support workers’ demands for human dignity and fair compensation.
King was inspired to do this by the advocacy for the oppressed that imbues our Christian tradition, beginning, of course, with Jesus.
Viterbo University’s inspiration comes from St. Francis of Assisi’s dedication to living a life emulating the Christian founder. King rose to prominence in the pulpit of southern churches, often eulogizing slain civil rights advocates. Along with his knowledge of the great Indian leader Mahatma Ghandi, who led the successful effort to end British colonial domination of his own society, King led a nonviolent movement that ended the brutal racial repression in our society.
This year’s celebration is steeped in historical commemoration: We mark the 50th anniversary of King’s “I have a Dream” speech, and we’re also marking the 150th anniversary of President’s Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
And on the very day we celebrate King’s legacy, our republic inaugurates our first African American president for the second time. The record turnout of minorities in both 2008 and 2012 is a testimonial to one of the civil rights movement’s greatest achievements — the 1965 Voting Rights Act that secured ballot access for all Americans. These minorities could then join a larger coalition to elect the candidate of their choice.
Today there are attempts to limit ballot access in our country through voter ID laws and more restrictive registration requirements. These restrictions are intended to address voter fraud that has been shown to be practically non-existent. It is estimated that these restrictions would have prevented as many as 5 million citizens from voting on Nov 6.
On four occasions since 1965, Congress has reauthorized the Voting Rights Act — most recently in 2006 when the Senate voted unanimously, the House provided overwhelming support and President George W. Bush signed it into law.
Turner experienced judicial fiat, ending aspirations for equality before the law in the 19th century. That judicial interference helped legalize the brutal system of segregation that King and his followers so heroically confronted in a nonviolent protest movement.
Yet today, voter access continues to be a debatable subject. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court soon will consider a challenge to the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Some argue it’s outdated and unneeded in today’s society. I think we have made significant progress in racial equality and guaranteeing ballot access to all our citizens.
Let us hope the current Supreme Court will reaffirm King’s legacy. I hope many of you will attend the celebration honoring this great leader.