Tuesday 19 January 2010

Martin Luther King, Jr among the Mennonites - message still as relevant as it was 50 years ago!

National Public Radio picked up a great story on MLK Day this year about how a recording of his 1960 speech at Bethel (Mennonite) College in Newton, Kansas was rediscovered from the personal collection of Randy Harmison, now a retired engineer. Randy had the foresight to make a reel-to-reel recording as a student there when it happened, but only recently had his memory jogged that he'd kept it all these years when Bethel was desperately seeking a copy for the anniversary celebration, after discovering there was no copy in its own archives. This speech was the centerpiece of a day of related events on that campus today - the 18th of January in the US.

King told his audience at Bethel 50 years ago: "I never intend to adjust myself to the evils of segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry."

The NPR story quotes Duane Friesen, professor emeritus at Bethel. He used King's teachings in his classroom and also remembered listening intently from the balcony during King's speech 50 years ago:

"He kept repeating that we need to be maladjusted to our society; we can't accept the status quo," Friesen says. "And he repeated that over and over again. I said I remember that, being a nonconformist. He had vigor about him, energy. He carried himself with a dignity, a sense of composure."

Bethel College published its own story with many more details, including how Vincent Harding - a Mennonite and one of MLK's former close associates - is involved in their special day. It also includes a link to NPR's story with excerpts from MLK Jr's inspiring "lost" speech.

All quite inspiring. But I found that it's not the first MLK speech recovered after half a century:

A year ago researchers in India discovered a copy of the speech MLK, Jr. made in India 50 years earlier during a trip he and his wife had made there in 1959 to understand the life and effect of Mahatma Ghandi. Here are a couple of excerpts from that one:

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr: "Since being in India, I am more convinced than ever before that the method of nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity. In a world since Mahatma Gandhi embodied in his life certain universal principles that are inherent in the moral structure of the universe, and these principles are as inescapable as the law of gravitation."

King speaks of his great appreciation for Gandhi:

"Many years ago, when Abraham Lincoln was shot - and incidentally, he was shot for the same reason that Mahatma Gandhi, was shot for, namely, for committing the crime of wanting to heal the wounds of a divided nation - and when he was shot, Secretary Stanton stood by the dead body of the great leader and said these words: Now he belongs to the ages. And in a real sense, we can say the same thing about Mahatma Gandhi, and even in stronger terms: Now he belongs to the ages. And if this age is to survive, it must follow the way of love and nonviolence that he so nobly illustrated in his life. And Mahatma Gandhi may well be God's appeal to this generation, for in a day when sputniks and explorers dash through outer space and guided ballistic missiles are carving highways of death through the stratosphere, no nation can win a war. Today, we no longer have a choice between violence and nonviolence; it is either nonviolence or nonexistence."

These words still ring true - so very relevant to issues we struggle with and must continue to address today!

-Clair in Canberra

P.S. Here's a great retrospective in the Seattle Times regarding MLK JR's life

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