What to say while holding a Bible

It could have been said in 1619, when slaves were first deposited on Point Comfort, Virginia’s shores. Or in 1778 by one of our Founding Fathers at the Constitutional Convention, where they waxed eloquent about all men being created equal. Or after the Emancipation Proclamation, when freed slaves were robbed of their voting rights, segregated, reduced to working in farm fields and as domestic help, and constrained by laws from enjoying rights available to whites.

It could have been said any time in our history, as the offspring of former slaves continued to be segregated, persecuted, oppressed, plundered, despoiled and lynched (in fact, as late as March 21, 1981, nineteen-year-old Michael Donald fell victim to a lynching in Mobile, Alabama). Indeed, it could have been said by President Trump as he stood in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, brandishing a Bible in Washington, D. C. during the June 2, 2020 protests. But it wasn’t.

Instead, it was said 65 years ago on December 5, 1955, at Holt Street Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama by Martin Luther King, four days after Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a city bus. The words Martin Luther King said that day ring as true today as they did then. This is part of what he said:

“There comes a time when people get tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression. There comes a time, my friends, when people get tired of being plunged across the abyss of humiliation, where they experience the bleakness of nagging despair. There comes a time when people get tired of being pushed out of the glittering sunlight of life’s July and left standing amid the piercing chill of an alpine November.

There comes a time. We are here today because we’re tired now. And I want to say that we are not here advocating violence. We have never done that. I want it to be known throughout this nation that we are Christian people. We believe in the teachings of Jesus. The only weapon that we have in our hands this evening is the weapon of protest. That’s all. And certainly, this is the glory of America, with all of its faults.

This is the glory of our democracy. If we were incarcerated behind the iron curtains of a Communistic nation, we couldn’t do this. If we were dropped in the dungeon of a totalitarian regime, we couldn’t do this. But the great glory of American democracy is the right to protest for right. Standing beside love is always justice, and we are only using the tools of justice. Not only are we using the tools of persuasion, but we’ve come to see that we’ve got to use the tools of coercion. Not only is this thing a process of education, but it is also a process of legislation.”

Martin Luther King’s message is clear about our history from 1619 to present: If you can’t find it in your faith or in your heart to love us as I love you, my persecutors, I appeal to justice, not love, and tell you we will exert our rights to ensure that you are forbidden by law from doing us harm. As Benjamin Franklin once rightly observed, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” Maybe having your breath (and life) slowly squeezed out of you as was done to George Floyd by policeman Devin Chauvin and assisting officers, may help you begin to understand King’s and Franklin’s words. That Chauvin kept his knee on the victim’s neck for 2 minutes after no pulse was felt, despite witnesses’ anguished pleas, should further sensitize the world to what’s been going on here for 400 years.


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