January 20, 2009
In 1967, at
New York’s Riverside Church, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King,
Jr., delivered a historic speech addressing the triple threat of racism,
militarism, and poverty. The
“Beyond Vietnam” speech is often described as the pivotal moment King’s growth
from American civil rights activist to global human rights leader. This address also marked the start
of the “Poor People’s Campaign” that King was advancing when he was assassinated
a year later.
People’s Campaign” was milestone event in American history, but it was never
concluded. It is heartbreaking to
realize that today’s minimum wage is lower in real dollars than the minimum wage
in 1968—four decades ago—when King was fighting for the rights of working
people. And while
individual Americans of color have made remarkable strides in the past forty
years, structural racism remains firmly entrenched. Many people were shocked when hurricane
Katrina exposed profound inequalities in New Orleans, but that was just one of many
American cities where structures of oppression are still intact, but remain
largely invisible. Katrina gave
America a painful lesson in
the twin realities of racism and poverty, just as the wars in
Iraq and Afghanistan have
taught us about the global and domestic consequences of corporate greed and
Today, as we
fight the “triple threat,” let us remember that the civil rights movement
realized its greatest successes while the nation confronted an unpopular war—
as we are doing now. And during the
current economic uncertainties, let us also remember that the federal minimum
wage was not enacted during a time of plenty, but during the lean years of the
Great Depression. Dr. King understood that we can’t choose one just cause at the
expense of another; we can’t wait for “a better time” to do the right thing.
He understood that the forces threatening
peace, prosperity, and equality had to be fought simultaneously if there was to
be any progress.
lived in desperate times, but he never lost hope. And we need to sustain our
hope as well, to create our own—stone of hope. I recall hearing those words,
"stone of hope," from Dr. King as I sat in a crowded room at the Unitarian Universalist Association's General
Assembly in Hollywood,
FL, in June of 1966, listening
to him deliver the Ware Lecture. Dr. King decried militarism, economic injustice
and the scourge of racism. He invoked the words of Jefferson and Lincoln, a call
for Americans to live up to the ideals that this country was based
Today we honor
Dr. King‘s memory by renewing our own commitments to peace and justice. We have
seen that there is backlash every time the circle of equality is widened, but I
hew my stone of hope with these words: “The arc of the universe is long,” said
Dr. King, quoting 19th century Unitarian abolitionist Theodore Parker, “but it
bends toward justice.”
intellectual and spiritual evolution was driven by his growing understanding
that forms of oppression are inextricably linked. May his insights continue to inspire our
Reverend William G. Sinkford
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Last updated on Thursday, June 3, 2010.
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