fresh voices from the front lines of change







Church Leaders Look To King's Challenge

Church leaders who propelled Civil Rights Movement look to rekindle King’s activist spirit. NYT: "Bishop Blake is one of dozens of ministers who will converge on Memphis on Wednesday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., one of the most famous preacher-activists in history. But more than bowing their heads and saying prayers, the pastors will confront a reality that there is no singular leader among them with the national following of Dr. King, and that their churches are not as central to the social justice movement as they once were. They are trying to figure out how to strike a balance of engaging in Dr. King’s unfinished work of fighting racism, while remaining true to a historically conservative institution. For pastors like Bishop Blake, that means embracing the parts of the movement he agrees with — ending police violence and empowering black entrepreneurs, for instance. But it also means holding the line on church teachings that young activists disagree with. There are also differences in approach. Pastors often want to work within the system to effect change, while many activists try to disturb and upend the system. Bishop Blake is not someone to be found on protest lines or shouting down law enforcement; he tends to advocate through more formal channels. He departs from some activist ministers in his social conservatism, opposing same-sex marriage and abortion. Yet he tries to strike a welcoming posture in an era of activists who can feel like the church is judging them. He hosted a rally at his church to protest the killing of Trayvon Martin. Last year, he wrote a letter to the mayor of St. Louis suggesting that if police practices were not reformed, his denomination could take its annual convention — and the millions of dollars that come with it — elsewhere. And at a gathering of black congressional leaders, his raspy voice grew louder as he declared that black people needed 'to take charge of our destiny.'"

Memphis Struggles With Inequality, 50 Years After MLK

50 years after King's death, struggles remain for African Americans in Memphis. LA Times: "As tens of thousands of people make pilgrimages to Memphis this week to this sacred civil rights spot to commemorate King's death and celebrate his legacy, many are confronting a question: How far has Memphis and the nation moved forward? 'Here we are 50 years later, and not much has improved,' said Bobby Rogers, a 39-year-old electrician from South Los Angeles, who stood in the motel's former parking lot one day this week with delegates from his local union, gazing up at the balcony where King was shot on April 4, 1968. 'Memphis is still poor and people are still fighting for a livable wage,' he said as throngs of families, pastors, activists and union workers lined up outside the museum. 'We still have so much to do.' Five decades after King launched his Poor People's Campaign and came to Memphis to support striking sanitation workers, this majority-black Southern city is the most impoverished metropolitan area in the nation, with nearly 20% of residents living below the poverty line. Blacks in the city of Memphis suffer disproportionately, with a median household income of about $31,000 — barely more than half that of whites, according to census data. More than 52% of the city's black children live in poverty."

Barack Obama And John Lewis Remember MLK

Barack Obama and John Lewis discuss the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. Time: "Barack Obama leans, ever so slightly, to his left as he tells students to brush aside their worries about controversy. The former President urges these high schoolers to speak up, fight for justice and emulate the work of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and let history, not headlines, judge. 'If you are speaking on behalf of social justice, then by definition there’s going to be some controversy because if it wasn’t controversial, then somebody would have already fixed it,' Obama says. Since leaving office in January 2017, Obama has largely kept a low profile in keeping with tradition. As part of his foundation, he relocated the elements of his White House efforts to narrow the opportunity gaps between young white men and young minority men. Monday’s session was part of that effort, now known as My Brother’s Keeper Alliance. 'Being on the right side of history isn’t always popular. And it isn’t always easy,' Obama tells Lewis in the video. 'You don’t know when things are going to break your way. You don’t know whether your labors will deliver.' But, Lewis counters, 'When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just you have a moral obligation to do something, to say something. Dr. King inspired us to do just that.'"

Why Apologies And Reparations Matter

Why we need both a national apology and reparations to heal the wounds of racism. WaPo: "As we remember the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination on Wednesday, the issue of reparations for slavery should not be considered an outlandish idea. A national apology and a hundred-billion-dollar reparations plan, at the very least, represent a conversation worth having. Reparations are not simply about money; they represent the acknowledgment of a wrong, and a material effort to make it right. They are about dignity and respect. And perhaps, more than anything else, they’re an effort to interrupt a continuous pattern of economic, education, social and political legacies of slavery that still exist. Pope John Paul II apologized for sins of the Catholic Church, calling such an apology 'an act of courage and humility in recognizing wrongs done.' But he also referred to such an apology as a 'purification of memory,' without which the offending party would not necessarily realize ways that the sin continued to be perpetrated. That, to me, is the fundamental issue that America has yet to face. In too many ways, legacies of slavery continue to be played out in our country through criminal, social and economic injustice. Until we do as a nation what as individuals we need to do to clean up past mistakes, we will be burdened by their continuance."

More from

Rev. William Barber, Dr. Liz Theoharis on New Poor People’s Campaign "Reverend William Barber and Dr. Liz Theoharis speak in Memphis, Tennessee about the 'new and unsettling force' of Dr. Martin Luther King’s life and legacy, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination. Barber and Theoharis are co-chairs of the New Poor People’s Campaign, A National Call for Moral Revival, inspired by Dr. King’s movement at the time of his death in 1968."

Martin Luther King Jr. Was a True Radical. Paul Harvey: "Martin Luther King Jr. has come to be revered as a hero who led a nonviolent struggle to reform and redeem the United States. But the true radicalism of his thought remains underappreciated. The 'civil saint' portrayed nowadays was, by the end of his life, a social and economic radical, who argued forcefully for the necessity of economic justice in the pursuit of racial equality. Three particular works from 1957 to 1967 illustrate how King’s political thought evolved from a hopeful reformer to a radical critic."

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