I thought about writing this because February is considered Black History Month. But, as Morgan Freeman pointed out: “Black history IS American history- there is no separation”
“The question to ask yourself is not ‘What will happen to me if I stop to help this man?’ The question is ‘What will happen to this man if I do stop to help him?’”
-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (“I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” 1968)
The lines quoted above are connected to Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan that Dr. King spoke about in his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech in 1968. I listened to this speech recently via iTunes. (Yes, I am crazy re: my iPod nano!!!) The story, as he explained it, follows. An injured Levite was laying on the road, a winding, dangerous road leading from Jericho to Jerusalem. A priest came along that road and passed him by without doing anything. Maybe he didn’t have time because he was on his way to a religious meeting. Or maybe he was on his way to a road construction meeting. Another Levite came by on the road later, but he did not stop to help the hurt man. Finally, a man of a different race came to the same place in the road. He dismounted from his animal and gave the injured Levite medical assistance. Jesus pointed out to his disciples that this foreign man was the true man of God, because he was doing God’s will.
Dr. King used this story, as well as a few other related ones, to propel others to boycott big businesses that used unfair hiring practices. He pointed out that black Americans had great economic power, and they could send a message by withdrawing their money from unfair banks, insurance agencies, etc. Up until then, only the sanitation workers of Memphis, TN (where he was speaking that day) had been feeling the pain of boycott. He said it was time “to spread the pain around” in the community. “We are a poor people, but together we are more powerful than all the nations of the world except nine!”
Without the work of Dr. King and his disciples, we certainly would not have affirmative action. Legal immigration to the U.S. grew exponentially in the 1970s onwards, also because of his great legacy. I was (a little) surprised when a professor pointed that out to me in college. What other man in 20th century America has harnessed the influence of religion to do extraordinary things for our entire world? Some of the “leaders” of today look very petty and insignificant when compared to Dr. King. He sought to UNITE, while many today seek to divide people of different political parties, races, religions, social classes, etc.