Reclaiming Martin Luther King’s “Beloved Community Today”

Today we commemorate the death of Martin Luther King, Jr, who was murdered 50 years ago today.

King’s prophetic voice remains strong, but so do the forces that opposed him and even killed him. Like King some 50 years ago, we must remain vigilant as we work for peace and justice in a divided world.

That’s why I’m grateful for Chalice Press for offering a free downloadable ebook titled, The Beloved Community Today: Voices of Justice and Hope Honor Martin Luther King Jr.

Contributors include: William J. Barber II, Michael W. Waters, Sandhya Rani Jha, Nicole Massie Martin, Leah Gunning Francis, and two friends of the Raven Foundation – Melvin Bray and Carolyn B. Helsel.

Each chapter emphasizes how far we’ve come in the last 50 years and the important work we still need to accomplish to achieve King’s dream.

Many people glorify King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, but King did not. About a year before he died, he claimed that in many ways his dream turned into a nightmare.

I must confess that that dream that day has at many points turned into a nightmare. Now I’m not one to lose hope. I keep on hoping. I still have faith in the future. But I’ve had to analyze many things over the last few years and I would say over the last few months. I’ve gone through a lot of soul-searching and agonizing moments. And I’ve come to see that we have many more difficult days ahead and some of the old optimism was a little superficial. Now it must be tempered with a solid realism. And I think the realistic fact is that we still have a long, long way to go and that we are involved in a war on Asian soil, which if not checked and stopped will poison the very soul of our nation…When a nation becomes obsessed with the guns of war it loses its social perspective. And programs of social uplift suffer.

Unfortunately, King’s prophetic legacy has been whitewashed. White people, in particular, have emphasized King’s insistence on nonviolence at the expense of his insistence on justice. William Baber II states,

The forces that profit from racial division and deprivation do not rest. Since the mid-1960s, when the Southern Freedom Movement was at its peak, shaking the very structures of Jim Crow, opponents of equal rights have been working on new tricks to divide and conquer the multiracial people’s Movement against what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called the Evil Triplets in the United States: racism, poverty, and militarism.

King emphasized the evil of racism throughout his life, and many white people supported his work on racism. But near the end of his life, he began to name the evils of poverty and militarism. That’s when nearly everyone abandoned King.

And today we rarely hear about King’s emphasis on the evils of poverty and militarism. Why? Maybe because those of us who are rich need the poor to remain poor. We scapegoat the poor because we benefit from their “poorness.” Deep down, I think that in our economy, some have to be poor in order for others to be rich. And I don’t want to be poor. Better them than me, right? So, let’s not rock the boat, Martin. I benefit from this system, so keep quiet!

And militarism? We love to fight our enemies. Whether they are Asian or Russian or Mexican, or Muslim, it doesn’t matter. We love militarism because it gives us a common enemy to unite against. I need an “evil other” so that I can know that I’m not evil. No, I’m part of the force for good in the world, thank you very much!

The fact that King named the evils of poverty and militarism made many people on the left and the right very uncomfortable. And so people tried to silence his voice. But not even death could silence King’s message. Indeed, we continue to suffer from the Evil Triplets that King named and there remains very little political will to deal with those problems. And yes, most would rather continue emphasizing King’s voice when it comes nonviolence and silence his message about poverty and militarism.

But books like The Beloved Community Today: Voices of Justice and Hope Honor Martin Luther King Jr give me hope. Like King, they continue to name the evils of the world and point to a better future. This is an invaluable book that makes for great personal and group reflection. You can download your free version today.


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