Written by Vicki Kemper
"For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light." - Psalm 36:9
The year was 1961, and the Civil Rights movement had reached a crossroads. Boycotts, sit-ins, and arrests had generated some support for desegregation and equal voting rights, but the time had come to take the struggle beyond the South, to build alliances and raise money.
And so it was that the movement's 32-year-old leader attended a simple church supper in a small New England college town. That's right: The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke in my church's basement.
What's almost as amazing is that the occasion was nearly lost to our congregation's history. Some church members recalled that Dr. King had come, but no one could remember exactly when, or what he said, or how he was received. Finally one member consulted the decades' worth of datebooks stored in her garage, and there it was: Monday, April 17, 1961, MLK, First Church dining room.
Now we have a plaque to mark the spot and help us remember the moment. We want everyone who passes through that workaday space—especially the folks who come for a soup-kitchen meal three times a week and the college students who sleep there a few nights each August—to know they are on holy ground and that they, too, can go forth to change the world.
Sometimes, when the injustices of the world are weighing heavy, I sneak downstairs and imagine him there. I wonder what he would think of us now, all these years later, as we struggle still—or don't—to eradicate racism from our laws, our institutions, and our hearts.
Today is Dr. King's birthday; he could have been 87 years old. Take some time to honor the man who brought hope, justice, and freedom to so many, a prophet who challenges us still. Listen to one of his speeches or read his "Letter from Birmingham Jail" Stream the movie "Glory." Give thanks, and then get to work.
In your light, O God, we see light. Thank you for our brother Martin. May his light ever shine. Amen.
Vicki Kemper is the Pastor of First Congregational, UCC, of Amherst, Massachusetts.