Bishop Blakw what MLK means to me

Bishop Blake: What I’ve Learned from the Life of Dr. King

The date: Sept 2, 1945. At the end of World War II, the Allies, including the United States, Great Britain, France, Russia and others, announced their victory over the Axis powers: Germany, Italy, and Japan. Approximately 73 million people died in the World War II conflict, including many Black American soldiers who fought on the battlefield but could not ride on the bus when they returned home.

The city: North Little Rock, Arkansas. My father loaded our family into our car and joined thousands of people in a spontaneous parade celebrating America’s victory. My brother was in the back seat; celebrating by waving a small American flag out of the window of our car. A white family pulled up beside us, and their son snatched my brother’s flag from his hand. As they pulled away, my brother and I protested to our father, “Daddy daddy, that boy stole our flag!  Get it back for us!” My father told us to be quiet.

My father said nothing. He was justifiably afraid.

But  at the age of 5:

  • I learned that because I was Black, my flag could be snatched away from me,  and there was nothing I could do about it.
  • I learned that a Black family’s rights can be violated, and they could not protest or fight back.
  • I learned that I did not have the same rights as did others. My rights could be snatched away at any time.

Fifteen years later, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others did protest and did insist on equal rights for Black people.  A few years later, the US legislators responded with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the voting rights act of 1965. Two decades later, that legislation was sealed by instituting a day of honor for Dr. Martin Luther King. In honoring him, our nation began to hand back flags that had been snatched from the hands of millions of Black citizens in the United States of America. They proclaimed that a man is just a man, no matter what his color is: no more, and no less.

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men have been created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. Among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – The Declaration of Independence

Dr. Martin Luther King was obviously a great man; he was obviously a great leader. He helped us to begin snatching back the flags which had long been beyond our reach.  Those of us who saw him and heard him also admired him and respected him. Thousands of us went to Selma, to Montgomery, and to a host of other cities where there was injustice.  He inspired some of us to risk our lives and others to even give their lives – if necessary – for the cause of freedom. He was a committed man willing to make great sacrifices. He could have chosen an easier pathway, but he was driven by his dream.

It is well known that he was an educated man, a trained man. Words were his tools; his instruments. He was a brilliant man. He perfected his art, his craft.  He was skillful as a strategist and as a negotiator. He was just one man but he made a difference; he made his contribution.

His life teaches us that we can strive for excellence in the pursuit of worthy causes. His life teaches us that we, also, can make a difference.


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Adapted from Presiding Bishop Charles Edward Blake’s sermon commemorating the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s Mountaintop Speech. April 3, 2018, Memphis, TN.