|Letter to King: battle to end racism continues|
In remembrance of the late Rev. Martin Luther King
Bishop Woodie White writes an annual letter in advance
of the civil rights leader's Jan. 15 birthday. A UMNS
photo courtesy of Library of Congress.
Editor’s note: Each year, Bishop Woodie White
writes a “birthday letter” to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. about the
progress of racial equality in the United States. White was the first
chief executive of the General Commission on Religion and Race of The
United Methodist Church. The United States will officially observe
King’s birthday on Jan. 19.
By Bishop Woodie W. White*
Jan. 7, 2010
What a difference a year makes! Last year, I wrote with great exuberance
about the election of the first African American to the presidency of
the United States. Today, I am no less excited, because it demonstrated a
significant step forward in our nation’s history.
United Methodist Bishop Woodie W. White. A UMNS file
photo by Mike DuBose.
However, some pundits have wrongly hailed the election as an ushering in
of a “post-racial” era! Events of the past year have dispelled that
Martin, we have been sadly reminded of the depth of prejudice in the
hearts and minds of many as the new president has taken office.
Let me quickly acknowledge that not all criticism of the President or
any person of color is automatically based on race. I well remember the
day I realized some people did not like me, not because I was black, but
because I was I!
But we have seen the awful face of racism for so long that no matter how
it camouflages itself, we know it when we see it! We have seen it these
past few months, and it is no less ugly.
Yet Martin, it is the face of a passing America. However loudly the
voices shout and however strong they may appear, it is a last gasp! Most
Americans are prepared to live in and work for a nation absent the kind
of racial division that characterized our country for so long.
At the same time, it is clear that the battle to end racial division in
our nation is not yet over. We still have much work to do to replace
walls of separation and prejudice with communities of love and justice.
Too many people still are racially divisive. They exploit division,
foster it and profit from it, some for political gain, others for
personal and financial reward—and they come in all colors!
And sadly, the seeds of racial prejudice have been planted so deeply in
some that though it may seem dormant, it takes little to stir these
people to act in hateful ways. So we must continue with efforts to heal
our brokenness, to bring clarity to misunderstandings and to address our
Justice Sonia Sotomayor
Good people can never remain silent in the face of evil. History has
taught us too well what happens when they do.
It would be misleading on this, the anniversary of your birth, to give
the impression that progress in the area of race has stalled. It has
not. Every day, new doors open, old barriers fall, and hands and hearts
reach across the racial divide. But it is not enough!
The reality is that walls that come down can be rebuilt. Old hatreds can
be reborn. That’s the problem with celebrating achievements too long
and too quickly: Progress is never permanent. We need to continually
nurture the good and challenge those elements committed to fostering ill
will and division.
One of the most meaningful signs this year, Martin, was the nomination
and election of Judge Sonia Sotomayor of New York as the first Hispanic
justice to the Supreme Court. The daughter of Puerto Rican parents,
Judge Sotomayor has a distinguished career and will bring broad law
experience to the court.
Permit me a bit of personal pride, Martin—we both graduated from high
schools in the Bronx!
And I dare not forget U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is now the first
African American to hold that office. Such “firsts” are becoming so
routine, Martin, that they now gain little or no public recognition!
The Rev. Joseph Lowery
Martin, nothing has brought me more personal joy, than the honor that
came to our buddy, Joe Lowery, who continues to be an influential voice
for social justice and human rights. He was chosen to give the
benediction at the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of
the United States. And it was a stirring one! Then on Aug. 12, he
received the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom Award, the
highest recognition the nation can bestow upon a civilian!
At the heart of the dream, you shared that August day back in 1963 in
Washington, D.C., was a society in which people would be “judged on the
content of their character and not the color of their skin.”
You told us, “It was rooted in the American dream.” And so it is! “One
nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
We shall overcome!
*Retired Bishop Woodie White is bishop-in-residence, Candler School of
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470
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