Monday was the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day parade here in Oviedo, Florida where I live. And, as I have for the past several years, I joined with several other pastors of various races, denominations, and backgrounds to march under the banner of the Oviedo Christian Ministers Association.
As I stood in the (Florida) cold (it was mid-forties) and waited for my friends to show up, I began to think, as I have in the past. Where would I, a white Presbyterian pastor, have been fifty years ago when such marches were not commemorative but proactive? Would I have been marching for civil rights when it was not safe? Would I have taken such stands that got crosses burned in the yard of a white friend of mine who did?
Or would I have been on the sidelines cheering but unwilling to encounter the risks that stepping into the streets would have entailed? Would I have been among the “Dear Fellow Clergymen” to whom Dr. King addressed his “Letter from Birmingham Jail“? Would I have fallen under Dr. King’s ‘regrettable conclusion’:
I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice.
This year as I walked with men who have become my friends, and prayed with and for them in front of the gathered city at Round Lake Park, the event was documented by one of my daughters, herself African-American. Just before the march, I was reminded that were it not for the courage of Dr. King, and many others like him, my family as it is and as I treasure it would not exist. I am a debtor to those who had the courage to take a stand.
A year or two ago, I confessed my self-doubt to one of my African-American pastor friends as we prepared to march. He confessed that he wondered the same thing about himself. That many put their lives and reputations at risk, some to the point of death, is the reason that he and I could have that conversation in the past tense. I am grateful to them all.