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MLK speaker urges continued fight for civil rights

Union United Methodist Church's ReUnion Choir performs at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Breakfast held at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center. A UMNS photo by Linda Haas.

By Linda Bloom*
Jan. 16, 2007 | BOSTON (UMNS)

The civil rights battle is far from over, a United Methodist pastor and veteran of that fight said on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

“Nothing stays won,” declared the Rev. Zan Wesley Holmes Jr. “Every victory we think we have won, we have to keep winning over and over and over again.”

The Rev. Zan Holmes speaks at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Breakfast in Boston. A UMNS photo by Linda Haas.

Holmes, pastor emeritus of St. Luke “Community” United Methodist Church in Dallas, was the keynote speaker before some 1,200 people at a Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Breakfast at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center.

Union United Methodist Church and St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church have co-sponsored the breakfast for the past 37 years. The Rev. Martin D. McLee, Union’s pastor, said the breakfast has grown to be one of the largest of its kind honoring King as well as an event that draws politicians from the city and state.

Participating this year, for example, were Thomas Menino, Boston’s mayor, U.S. Sen. John Kerry and the state’s new governor, Deval Patrick. Patrick is the first African-American governor of Massachusetts and the state’s first Democratic governor in 16 years.

Also at the head table were McLee; the Rev. Henderson Brome, rector of St. Cyprian’s and co-chairperson of the breakfast; the Rev. Charles R. Stith, a United Methodist pastor and former U.S. ambassador to Tanzania who currently serves as director of the African Presidential Archives and Research Center at Boston University; state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson; and state Rep. Gloria Fox.

In his introduction, McLee called Holmes “one of the invisible giants of the civil rights movements.” Holmes retired in 2002 after a 43-year-ministry and was among the first African Americans elected to statewide office in Texas in the late ’60s.

Holmes told United Methodist News Service that he met King twice. “He came to Dallas on five different occasions,” he recalled. “I was part of the group that brought him there on two occasions.”

The Rev. Charles Stith (from left), U.S. Sen. John Kerry and Gov. Deval Patrick share a laugh during the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Breakfast. A UMNS photo by Linda Haas.

The first occasion was in 1963 for a Board of Education rally. The second occurred on March 22, 1966, when King spent a day with Dallas area pastors and spoke at Southern Methodist University.

“The last time I saw him was when we were riding the elevator (at Southern Methodist),” Holmes added.

King’s dream remains

He believes that Americans need to get to know the real Martin Luther King Jr. again, the man who had what was considered to be a radical and dangerous agenda. “We have witnessed the de-radicalization of his life,” Holmes told the breakfast crowd. “We have domesticated him.

“The cause for which he lived is still a cause, and the dream for which he lived is still a dead man’s dream.”

Holmes pointed out that King had a global vision and believed that “justice denied anywhere is justice denied everywhere.”

In his opinion, King’s goal has not yet been achieved. “The end goal of the civil rights movement … was not necessarily participation or integration but transformation,” he explained.

“It’s not enough to get on the bus. If the bus is going in the wrong direction, what difference does it make?”

The challenge, according to Holmes, is how to transform the world “so we can truly become the beloved community.”

A gap to close

Patrick, who served as an assistant attorney general for civil rights under the Clinton administration, also spoke of the challenge of King’s legacy. “Dr. King came with a message about the gap between American ideals and reality … and a moral challenge to close that gap.”

Participants at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Breakfast include (from left), the Rev. Martin McLee, the Rev. Zan Holmes, state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson and Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston. A UMNS photo by Linda Haas.

The 50-year-old governor said he heard King speak at a rally when he was growing up on the south side of Chicago. He has forgotten the words but remembers “the sense that something important was happening.”

Much work remains to be finished. For example, Patrick said, “The United States Supreme Court is on the brink of rationalizing justice right out of the law,” even seriously considering overriding the historic decision about segregation in Brown vs. the Board of Education.

But, the governor pointed out, anyone can serve the cause of civil rights, regardless of education or skills. “You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love,” he said.

It’s also important to “check our egos at the door,” according to Holmes, who illustrated his point with an anecdote from his 1968-72 service in the Texas House of Representatives.

The only other African-American state representative, Curtis Graves, was brilliant, he said, but was considered a radical and was disliked by some other representatives, so he had trouble getting legislation passed. Graves asked Holmes to sponsor one of his bills. When Holmes presented the bill, Graves then spoke against it.

The bill passed. “We did it because he didn’t care who got the credit,” Holmes explained. “He checked his ego at the door.”

Making a better world

Union United Methodist Church – which can trace its roots back to 1796, when a group of believers began meeting for study and worship – and St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church, organized in 1910 by Blacks from the West Indian Islands and from U.S. southern states, consider their long co-sponsorship of the breakfast to be “an opportunity to give thanks for the life journey of Dr. King” and a recommitment to King’s dream.

“As we journey in our respective spheres of influence and privilege, we are encouraged to inherit the ‘dream’ for equality and inclusiveness,” McLee and Brome, the two pastors, wrote. “As we live out our inheritance, let us make a better world. In a better world, the horror of forced servitude and the murders in Darfur become footnotes in history. In a better world, affordable housing will be a reality and not a mere slogan.”

Union’s ReUnion Choir provided the music for the breakfast, which receives support from various corporate sponsors. Four high school students were honored with the breakfast’s annual scholarship awards. For the third year, awards also were given to the winning submissions in an art contest.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.


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