Updated: May 29
As I approached the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in the month before the pandemic, I heard a recording of Dr. King’s voice, a voice that for me sounds like social justice.
I first heard Dr. King’s voice in 1965 in Montgomery, Alabama. I had been in Montgomery for a week with a few other white students. We were asked to come to Montgomery’s black community to make KKK attacks less likely. When the marchers from Selma arrived at Montgomery, we joined them in a march through the city to the state capital, where Dr. King spoke. I was not close to the stage, but I was there.
I heard Dr. King a second time in a small church in Chicago in 1967. I was spending the summer working for the Chicago City Missionary Society with Black teenagers from the South side of Chicago. On a hot evening, in a crowded church, I could hear his voice as I stood just inside the sanctuary.
The last time I heard Martin Luther King’s voice was at Riverside Church in New York, when he came out against the Vietnam War. This time, I sat in a pew not far from the pulpit, and I felt in the presence of the voice of social justice. He addressed the rights and perils not only of the civilians of the United States, but also the civilians of Vietnam. In the terminology of my current thinking, he exposed the climate of injustice and called for a climate of justice.
His voice, like the voice of Malcolm X, Bobby Kennedy, Fred Hampton, and others, was silenced by a gun. The fact is that the voices of social justice are always at the mercy of the gun.