The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the people whose example and teachings inspire me. I’ve read essays from A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to my stepson and will also read them to my daughter when she is a little bit older. There’s not much I can say about Dr. King that hasn’t already been said, but I wanted to share some thoughts that surfaced today in connection with his legacy.
My husband grew up in Selma, AL. Many people would have no idea Selma existed if it wasn’t for Dr. King’s historical civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. In 2006, I drove there for the first time with my husband to meet his grandmother. I was pregnant with our daughter and it was time to meet her and receive her blessing. Seth’s grandfather was a pastor (or “preacher”, as they say in the South) at three Presbyterian churches – one in Selma, and two other rural congregations. His grandmother was a strong, devout and righteous woman, and had a strong influence on my husband’s spiritual development. The family nicknamed her “Big Chief”, and she was the moral compass of the Young family after Seth’s grandfather passed away in 1982.
The first time we drove down Rt. 80 to visit his grandmother, I recall being very moved by the thought of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and his group of protesters making their historic march along this long, often desolate road. I could almost feel their footsteps, their weariness and deep faith along the hour long drive from I-65 down Rt. 80 and over the bridge. One can only imagine the motivation it took to make that march, many dressed in their Sunday best, knowing they may be stopped or attacked at any point along the way.
Interspersed between some lovely farmland are abandoned or decrepit trailers or low-income housing, the remains of a military base that had once fed the economy of Selma and surrounding towns, and not much else. However, I remember feeling something pass over me as we crossed over the Edmund Pettus Bridge into downtown Selma. The collective spiritual energy of the civil rights marchers is still very much present, even though evidence of their efforts seems at times profoundly lacking in the daily lives of many African-Americans who live in Selma.
It was with some nervousness (and queasiness, since I was still in my first trimester) that I stepped out of the car after that seemingly endless drive to meet the God-fearing woman so beloved to my husband. She looked me in the eye firmly, asked if I was a Christian (I confirmed yes), deemed me fit and welcomed me in quite warmly. Grandmother Young was very plain-spoken. She never sugar-coated what she said, but as my father-in-law said of her, “She loved everybody.” Her deep faith over the years shaped a heart that unconditionally loved and accepted all people as children of God.
Later that day, I drove with my husband and stepson to the three churches pastored by his grandfather, including an old clapboard church in Vine Hill containing a cemetery with graves dating back to the Revolutionary War. (The photo above is from the church.) As the day went on, I understood that there is an undefinable spiritual undercurrent in this area that Dr. King and his marchers must have tapped into, even though they were there in response to the voting rights issue in Selma.
I am reminded today, as I was that day I visited Selma for the first time, that love is our innate state of being. Unfortunately, our experience with each other and the world is often one of separateness, fear, or anger. The more we can bring ourselves individually and collectively closer to realizing and living our innate state, the more we are honoring the message of Dr. King, and all of the teachers and sages who inspired his actions.
In every breath, in every moment, we can BE love. We can love everybody.
(Photo credit: Dana Lisa Young)