Today Memphis bustles with almost 100,000 visitors who are commemorating the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. While I was a self-focused and distracted college freshman in Virginia, many of my friends and acquaintances lived here in Memphis when the murder took place in 1968. Their experience of the event and its repercussions were visceral and vivid. Over the years, King’s untimely death has magnified both the struggles and the vitality of the city. This week is jam packed with commemorative events sponsored by the The Civil Rights Museum (which is a must for visitors to Memphis), churches, colleges, and historical and community organizations throughout the city.
I plan to participate in two events. One is today at Calvary Episcopal Church: a worship service and placing of a new historical marker near the church. The marker acknowledges the vast wealth amassed from the slave market that existed near the church and was owned by Nathan Bedford Forrest. The second event is a reenactment of the Ministers March from St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral to City Hall in support of the 1968 Sanitation Workers Strike. The Cathedral’s website describes the original march:
On the morning of April 5 after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination in 1968, about 300 clergy gathered at St. Mary’s Cathedral. Most were members of the inclusive, multi-racial ministerial alliance of the Memphis Ministers’ Association. After prayer and soul-searching discussion, they adopted a statement favoring the striking city sanitation workers. Then, approximately 150 of them marched from the Cathedral to Mayer Henry Loeb’s office and presented their demands. Dean Bill Dimmick led the march with the Cathedral cross.
I cannot write about Martin Luther King, Jr. because compared to others who have lived in the circle of his life and death, I know very little. But there are many words I associate with the work and ministry of this holy and flawed hero. These words about his ideals, his issues, his causes, his character… surround the painting below of Dr. King by Roy DeLeon. Roy is the author of Praying with the Body: Bringing the Psalms to Life and the illustrator of a new book by Jon Sweeney called The Pope’s Cat.
In the late 1990’s my choreographer friend Gwen Spear Jones danced to Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream speech. Before she danced I sang a song by Bob Franke called A Still Small Voice. It seems appropriate for this special day. Here is a YouTube of the song sung by Bob Franke. The first verse is below:
In a still small voice in the middle of the night, Brother Martin heard the simple truth,
And he followed its pleading ’til it led to a crossroads parting in the days of my youth.
In the heart of my city came a single scream,
And I heard it through all the white noise.
And the papers told me that they’d killed the Dream,
But they never killed the still small voice.