For many people in the United Sates, today is a day off from work or school.
Some folks will celebrate; some folks will remember; and some folks will utterly ignore it.
I will recognize it, reflect upon it, and remind my children why it’s important.
Here’s what I will tell them:
“Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man who did some great things for our country. When he was growing up, people with darker skin were treated badly by people with lighter skin. Now, not all people with lighter skin behaved badly, but there were plenty who did. People with dark skin weren’t allowed to drink from the same water fountains as people with lighter skin; they couldn’t swim in the same swimming pools; they couldn’t use the same doors to go into the restaurants; they couldn’t attend the same schools. They usually couldn’t get the same kinds of jobs as people with lighter skin, and when they did, they weren’t paid as much money even though they did the same kind of work. Because of this, a lot of them were much poorer than a lot of people with lighter skin. And even when they wanted to get a good education so they could get the better jobs, the governor of our state tried to stop them from going to college. What’s even sadder is that in a lot of places, they weren’t even allowed to go to the same churches as people with lighter skin.
“This is so horrible because God made them just like he made us, and Jesus died for them just like he died for us. And God wants us to love all people, not just the people who are like us. But some people forgot that.
“So, what Martin Luther King, Jr. did was to help lead his people, the people with darker skin, to try to change our country so that all people had the same rights, no matter what color their skin was. In those days, things could get really ugly, almost like a war in some places. It got really bad in Detroit, where your Daddy grew up (well, this was long before I was born). In Birmingham, churches were bombed, and business were burned out, just because the people had dark skin. So, you would think that people with dark skin would try to fight the people with light skin, right? Well, some of them did. It got really ugly. People with light skin and dark skin did some really bad things in those days.
“But Martin Luther King, Jr. was different. He believed Christians should behave differently. So, one day a woman in Montgomery got into trouble for sitting in the front of a bus. (In those days, people with dark skin had to sit in the back of the bus. Well, she was tired and sat in the front, and Oh! Did that make some of the lighter-skinned people angry!) The people with dark skin asked Martin Luther King, Jr. to come to Montgomery and help them out. And do you know what he said they should do? Just stop riding the busses. The bus companies needed money from dark-skinned people just as much as from light-skinned people, so they would walk and save money! I’m sure they got tired of doing that, but that was his way of fixing things – don’t fight and break stuff and hurt people, but don’t let people mistreat you either. America is supposed to be a free country for everyone, and God created everyone equal, and Jesus loves everyone, so he thought they should try and change things.
“Well, he led his people, and eventually our country did change. The laws changed. And people with dark skin were given the same freedoms that people with light skin already had. But some people were very angry. They liked things better before the dark-skinned people had their freedom. And one day a crazy guy shot and killed Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Today we remember him and what he did, but we also remember how he bravely stood up for what our country is all about – freedom and liberty for everyone. Someday, when you’re older, you’ll listen to a great speech he made about his dream for people with light skin and people with dark skin to love one another and treat each other the same. And some day I’ll have you read a letter he wrote when he was in jail – he was in jail for trying, once again, to help his people get their freedom, and he wrote his letter to eight light-skinned preachers who thought he shouldn’t be doing what he was doing. (Kids, a lot of preachers have tried to make the Bible say things it doesn’t say. Way back before the Civil War, when a lot of people with dark skin were slaves, there were preachers who tried to tell their churches that it was OK. But we know the Bible says God made everyone the same and that Jesus loves and died for everyone the same, right?)
“Someday, you’ll probably meet someone who will tell you that Martin Luther King, Jr. wasn’t a good man. And you know what? He did some things that were wrong. He was a sinner, just like we are. Someone might tell you he wasn’t a Christian. He said he was, but he did believe some things about Jesus that we don’t think are right. He wasn’t a perfect man, but he did a good thing, and we should honor what he did.
“I want you always to remember that no matter what a person looks like, God made them. Jesus loves them, and so should you. You are no better than them, and no worse than them, either. And I want you to be careful. We live around people who remember those awful times when Martin Luther King, Jr. was still alive. Some of them remember some of the bad things that people did. Some of our neighbors with dark skin remember the bad things done by light-skinned people; some of our neighbors with light skin remember bad things done by dark-skinned people. And even today, they don’t like people with different colored skin. You might hear them saying bad things about people with different colored skin. They might call them bad names; they might tell jokes about them. I don’t ever want to hear you talking like that. It’s wrong, and it doesn’t please God.
“But even if someone treats another person badly because of their skin color, we have to remember to love them too. What they are doing is sin, just like we sin sometimes. Jesus loves them too. Your Mommy and Daddy have to remember this. We’ve been treated very badly by some light-skinned people who didn’t want us sharing the love of Jesus with dark-skinned people. That was wrong; it was sin. But we’ve had to forgive them too. If Jesus forgives us, we should forgive others.
“And that’s really what it’s all about. Martin Luther King, Jr. did a great thing for our country. But he reminds us of Jesus did for all of us. Jesus made us all equal – oh, we look different and talk different and like different things, but we’re all made in his image. And we’ve all sinned and come short of the glory of God. And he died so that any of us who repent and believe can be saved from our sins and be part of his Kingdom. And in his Kingdom, there is no difference between people with light skin and dark skin. Because of Jesus we are all part of God’s family.”