By Dr. Johnny Golden
As we approach the celebration and commemoration of the 93rd birthday of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. there are some things that I wished the world knew better of him.
First, that he was a preacher; his calling into ministry must ever be remembered and celebrated.
Too often today, we dismiss the “Reverend,” but make no mistake about it, “Dr. King” was formed, forged and fortified in the safe and sacred womb of the church – specifically, the Black Church; that anomalous, ofttimes ethereal actuality that precious few can precisely define within the confines of language or languor.
Secondly, I wish that the world knew that in the words of the Negro Spiritual, “ he told Jesus that it would be all right if he changed his name.” Dr. King’s birth name was Michael, but his father changed it, and his own, to Martin Luther. This change would be prescient.
Martin Luther, the great 16th century German Reformer of the Church, was moved beyond measure by the writings of the peripatetic preacher Paul of Tarsus. So, too, would the young, charismatic preacher, King, Jr., be.
The signal moment that is most-often overlooked is Dr. King’s 1967 speech in opposition to America’s involvement in the War in Viet Nam at the historic Riverside Church in New York City there he fired the shot that was heard around the world.
The stirrings for this radical departure in message and mission, for the Man of Peace and Non-Violence, no longer just agitating and aggravating his government about its of vile and vituperative treatment of “the Negro” at home, its original sin, but, worse, he dare question the nation’s involvement in international affairs and the hellish conflagration that it so immorally unleashed against a people thousands of miles away.
“Beyond Vietnam,” the speech at the Riverside Church, and the ensuing uproar, elevated Dr. King’s profile beyond the “Negro Movement.” On this day the Messenger with the Messianic appeal became the unequalled Voice from the wilderness. Governmental leaders, the pompous Pharisees of the day, murmured and muttered as earlier they had done with the lowly Carpenter, ‘behold, the world now follows after him.’ One year later to the day, he would be assassinated.
As the 20-ton bourdon bell of the Riverside Church still rings out its sterling tintinnabulation, soldiers today are again called to arm themselves with righteousness, justice, and truth. Thomas Paine, the 18th century activist wrote in “The American Crisis” that ““these are the times that try men’s souls; the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country. Tyranny, like hell, he cautioned, is not easily conquered, yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”
Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. embodied this call to arms and he has left this trust, trumpet, and treasure for future generations the world over. Do you hear what I hear? The bell yet tolls.
Dr. Johnny Golden is a servant leader at New Unity Baptist Church Ministries in Baltimore.
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