Happy birthday, Dr. King!
The book "Voices: Reflections on an American Icon Through Words and Song", was envisioned as a tribute to the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., and inspired by the music of the Civil Rights movement. There were positive messages being played over the airwaves and the people were being uplifted and stirred to get involved with what was going on throughout the land. The book says that Dr. King considered music to be the soul of the movement. Folk songs, spirituals and hymns heartened protesters as they stood up to firehoses, dog attacks, and arrests. And one song, "We Shall Overcome", became the movement’s anthem.
"The freedom songs are playing a strong and vital role in our struggle, and they give people new courage and a sense of unity," said Dr. King. "I think they keep alive a faith, a radiant hope in the future, particularly in our most trying times!"
Civil Rights activists sang through humiliation and intimidation. They blended their voices on lengthy freedom marches and harmonized in jail for strength, inspiration, and solace. Music embraced them all in companionship and a common cause.
What happened to that type of music? More importantly, what happened to that kind of inspirational leadership? We are no longer hearing bold words, such as when Dr. King said, "I have come to the conclusion that the ultimate measure of a man is not where he finds himself in moments of comfort and moments of convenience, but where he finds himself in moments of challenge, and moments of controversy."
We’ve had many challenges and many controversies in our community that should have been addressed with strength, but all we hear is silence or lukewarm words.
Several years ago, someone being interviewed by Gil Noble on Like It Is said, "If one wants to know what type of leadership a community has, all one has to do is take a walk throughout that community - see what type of condition that community is in - and that will tell you what type of leadership is in that community." Wow!
If our country is serious about turning Dr. King’s dream into a reality let’s start by embracing and activating Dr. King’s words: "If the church does not participate actively in the struggle for peace and for economic and racial justice, it will forfeit the loyalty of millions and cause men everywhere to say that the church has atrophied its will. But if the church will free itself from the shackles of a deadening status quo, and, recovering its great historic mission, will speak and act fearlessly and insistently in terms of justice and peace, it will enkindle the imagination of mankind and fire the souls of men, imbuing them with a glowing and ardent love for truth, justice, and peace."
In January, 1957, Black ministers formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Dr. King was elected president and traveled 780,000 miles and gave 208 speeches to help organize and support Civil Rights demonstrations around the country. That was 56 years ago.
On January 14, 2009 a headline in the Hudson Valley Press read: "Black Ministerial Fellowship’s name change". Part of that article said, "After much prayer and deliberation, the Black Ministerial Fellowship of Newburgh and Vicinity voted by majority to change their name. The name Black Ministerial Fellowship has been a tradition and fortress in the City of Newburgh for over 50 years. The name change in no way denotes a removal of emphasis on the causes and concerns of the African American Community. Such causes and concerns will continue to be highlighted and supported." A little further down it read, "The name change opens the door for membership to pastors and ministers who are Christians of all races and colors, and who wish to help in bringing about an ecumenical attack against all of the problems that separate Christians as well as changing the conditions and situations in Newburgh that create tension, stress and strain."
With the numbers increasing in the fellowship, why has there been such silence towards the massive problems going on in the City of Newburgh as it pertains to the indecent quality of life that so many of its citizens are living in? Dr. King said, "the church should speak and act fearlessly and insistently in terms of justice, and peace." Why is there such silence in this community when so much is wrong for a large percentage of its citizens? The ministers should be crying loud and sparing not, showing the powers that be their transgressions. I realize that the national government is granting much faith-based funding throughout many communities - which is another reason why things should be getting better - but they aren’t doing so for the masses in Newburgh.
Let me end with more words of Dr. King’s in celebration of his birthday: "How often the church has been an echo rather than a voice, a tailgate behind the Supreme Court and other secular agencies, rather than a headlight guiding men progressively and decisively to higher levels of understanding. There was a time when the church was very powerful - in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society."
There is no message in the music because there are no more genuine messengers inspiring the songs to be written. "What’s Going On?" I guess the answer to that is still "Blowin’ in the Wind". This is Lillie’s Point of View!