A reflection by Christina Brennan Lee for 14 January 2024.
“How long? Not long, because no lie can live forever. How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
~ The Rev Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.
Here I am, truly preaching to the very knowing choir, when many writers considerably more eloquent and experienced than I have written far more useful and perfect words to remember and celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Yet here we are, still asking the question: HOW LONG? with ever more frustration, anxiety, and fearful wonder at the almost incomprehensible conditions in this Country and in our entire World. But in the Spirit and Wisdom and Calling of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther, King, Jr., and with the VERY wise words of my dear friend, the Rev. Canon Lloyd Casson, “Let us not just commemorate, let us EMULATE!”
“How Long, Not Long” is the popular name given to the public speech delivered by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on the steps of the State Capitol in Montgomery, Alabama, after the successful completion of the Selma to Montgomery March on March 25, 1965. The following is an excerpt from that speech. The words, never more relevant than today, are his. The emphasis is mine:
“…Our whole campaign in Alabama has been centered around the right to vote. In focusing the attention of the nation and the world today on the flagrant denial of the right to vote, we are exposing the very origin, the root cause, of racial segregation in the Southland.
“Racial segregation as a way of life did not come about as a natural result of hatred between the races immediately after the Civil War. There were no laws segregating the races then.
“And as the noted historian, C. Vann Woodward, in his book, The Strange Career of Jim Crow, clearly points out, the segregation of the races was really a political stratagem employed by the emerging Bourbon interests in the South to keep the southern masses divided and southern labor the cheapest in the land.
“You see, it was a simple thing to keep the poor white masses working for near-starvation wages in the years that followed the Civil War. Why, if the poor white plantation or mill worker became dissatisfied with his low wages, the plantation or mill owner would merely threaten to fire him and hire former Negro slaves and pay him even less. Thus, the southern wage level was kept almost unbearably low… Toward the end of the Reconstruction era, something very significant happened. That is what was known as the Populist Movement.
“The leaders of this movement began awakening the poor white masses and the former Negro slaves to the fact that they were being fleeced by the emerging Bourbon interests. Not only that, but they began uniting the Negro and white masses into a voting bloc that threatened to drive the Bourbon interests from the command posts of political power in the South.
“To meet this threat, the southern aristocracy began immediately to engineer this development of a segregated society. I want you to follow me through here because this is very important to see the roots of racism and the denial of the right to vote. Through their control of mass media, they revised the doctrine of white supremacy. They saturated the thinking of the poor white masses with it, thus clouding their minds to the real issue involved in the Populist Movement.
“They then directed the placement on the books of the South of laws that made it a crime for Negroes and whites to come together as equals at any level. And that did it. That crippled and eventually destroyed the Populist Movement of the nineteenth century…Thus, the threat of the free exercise of the ballot by the Negro and the white masses alike resulted in the establishment of a segregated society. They segregated southern money from the poor whites; they segregated southern mores from the rich whites; they segregated southern churches from Christianity; they segregated southern minds from honest thinking; and they segregated the Negro from everything.
“That’s what happened when the Negro and white masses of the South threatened to unite and build a great society: a society of justice where none would prey upon the weakness of others; a society of plenty where greed and poverty would be done away; a society of brotherhood where every man would respect the dignity and worth of human personality…”
O Creator God ~ guide us to cross the bridge again, together, for the sake of all God’s people, in every hamlet, town, city, county, state, and country in this world. Let us keep the Dream Alive, let us fight hatred with love, let us seek You in all that we do, re-dedicate ourselves to Your purpose, and burn the words of Jesus into our very being as he told us to: Love the Lord God with all our hearts, all our souls, and all our minds, AND love our neighbors as if, and because, they are] ourselves. AMEN.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Every week, Christina Brennan Lee writes the Prayers of the People we use in our worship services on Sundays. She also leads weekday prayer services and serves on the SsAM Vestry. Click here to see her People’s Prayers website.