Wednesday, July 17, 2013

When History Comes Alive: Listening to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., In His Kitchen

Montgomery, Alabama is a remarkable place: the Confederate States of American was founded here and, less than a block away in the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, the American Civil Rights Movement began. Today, with my friend Meredith and her daughter, Anna, I toured the church and its parsonage, which is at 309 Jackson Street. In 1956, local segregationists had bombed that home, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. , pastor of the church, was living with his wife and children.

A highlight of our tour was the kitchen, a place where Dr. King said he had a religious epiphany, where he felt Christ's presence, which gave him  the strength to soldier on. He learned that night   to never fear death.

Our docent, Rev. John Wesley Summers, (pictured at left with one of his grandsons) played an audiotape of  King's writing to us as we stood in that kitchen. We were permitted to take pictures in the kitchen, but not in any other room of the house.Listening to Dr. King's words in that kitchen gave me goosebumps; they reminded me that we all belong to Another, that our strength and hope comes from the One who called each of us into being.

 “One night toward the end of January I settled into bed late, after a strenuous day. Coretta had already fallen asleep and just as I was about to doze off the telephone rang. An angry voice said, ‘Listen, nigger, we’ve taken all we want from you; before next week you’ll be sorry you ever came to Montgomery.’ I hung up, but I couldn’t sleep. It seemed that all of my fears had come down on me at once. I had reached the saturation point.

I got out of bed and began to walk the floor. I had heard these things before, but for some reason that night it got to me. I turned over and tried to go to sleep, but I couldn’t sleep. I was frustrated, bewildered, and then I got up. Finally I went to the kitchen and heated a pot of coffee. 

I was ready to give up. With my cup of coffee sitting untouched before me I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward. I sat there and thought about a beautiful little daughter who had just been born. I’d come in night after night and see that little gentle smile. I started thinking about a dedicated and loyal wife, who was over there asleep. And she could be taken from me, or I could be taken from her. And I got the point that I couldn’t take it any longer. I was weak. 

Something said to me, ‘You can’t call on Daddy now, you can’t even call on Mama. You’ve got to call on that something in that person that your Daddy used to tell you about, that power that can make a way out of no way.’ With my head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud.

The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory: ‘Lord, I’m down here trying to do what’s right. I think I’m right. I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But Lord, I must confess that I’m weak right now, I’m faltering. I’m losing my courage. Now, I’m afraid. And I can’t let the people see me like this because if they see me weak and losing my courage, they will begin to get weak. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.’

It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: ‘Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And lo, I will be with you. Even until the end of the world.’

I tell you I’ve seen the lightning flash. I’ve heard the thunder roar. I’ve felt sin breakers dashing trying to conquer my soul. But I heard the voice of Jesus saying still to fight on. He promised never to leave me alone. At that moment I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced Him before. Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything.”

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