Pathways through Lent

Martin Luther King, Jr, Civil Rights Leader and Martyr, 1968

Psalm 77:11-20
Genesis 37:17b-20
Ephesians 6:10-20
Luke 6:27-36

In the late 1960s, I was an intern for Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam; this organization gave Dr. King a platform to make an historic speech on April 4, 1967, linking the anti-war and civil rights movements, and named him one of its co-chairs.

We planned a mobilization in Washington, to include a silent prayer service for all those killed in Vietnam, to be led by Dr. King and other prominent interfaith leaders in Arlington Cemetery on February 6, 1968. I was to work with the news media. The Johnson administration denied the necessary permit. We went to court and prevailed.

The evening before the prayer service, Dr. King and many of his well-known associates met in the basement of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. I was in the room as they discussed a death threat against him by a racist group that the authorities had relayed. Dr. King listened patiently to wide-ranging recommendations about what he should do. Finally, he thanked everyone and said simply, “They cannot scare us. We will do what we came here to do.”

The threat never materialized (I suspect it had been manufactured by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI). The prayer service and Dr. King’s speech later that day received major news attention. My career as a Washington news media relations specialist had begun.

What struck me most that evening was Dr. King’s presence. The spirit of Christ was at work in and through him. It was obvious. I felt it. More importantly, he knew it. He did not get in its way.

Two months later, after his murder, I had a new way of understanding the death and resurrection of Jesus and what it means to be the body of Christ.

– The Reverend Doctor Theodore William Johnson

April 4 - MLK


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