The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s was a period of great unrest. For people in the Civil Rights movement, it was not only a challenging, but a dangerous time. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood strong under tremendous pressure. Steeped in the scriptures, he inspired people with words of justice and hope.
One cannot separate King from the faith that sustained him and fueled his courage. Early in the movement, he was ready to give up. Late night phone calls, threatening his life and lives of his family, eventually reached a point where he questioned everything he was doing.
One night, after yet another threatening call, he tried to think of a way that he could step aside. King wrote in his autobiography, *“I hung up, but I couldn’t sleep. It seemed that all of my fears had come down on me at once. I had reached the saturation point . . . I went to the kitchen and heated a pot of coffee. I was ready to give up. With my cup of coffee sitting untouched before me I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward . . . With my head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud. ‘Lord. I’m down here trying to do what’s right. I think I’m right. I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But Lord, I must confess that I’m weak now, I’m faltering. I’m losing my courage. Now, I am afraid. And I can’t let the people see me like this because if they see me weak and losing my courage, they will begin to get weak. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.’”
Telling the story of that day he said, “It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And lo, I will be with you. Even until the end of the world.”
**‘I tell you I’ve seen the lightning flash.
I’ve heard the thunder roar.
I’ve felt sin breakers dashing trying to conquer my soul.
But I heard the voice of Jesus saying still to fight on.
He promised never to leave me alone.’
King wrote, “At that moment I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced Christ before. Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything.” Martin Luther King Jr. found courage when he took his fears, doubts and bone weariness, leaving it in the hands of God. He found hope and assurance in prayer.
The personal and the social gospel are intertwined. We might aspire to do great things, but can easily falter without the sustaining presence of God. King learned that early in the Civil Rights Movement. His legacy of faith, lived out in action, is both a gift and an example to all of us.
“But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Amos 5:24
*Quotes are taken from the book “The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr.” Chapter 8, “The Violence of Desperate Men” by Clayborne Carson
** Lyrics are from Ludie Carrington Day Pickett’s hymn “Never Alone”