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Jan 22, 2015 | The Rev. Kwasi Thornell

The Battle Is Far From Over: Reflections on the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


In April of 1968, just before Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, he marched with disenfranchised sanitation workers in Memphis, TN. 


Those in the march carried signs, which read “I AM A MAN”. The signs were a call to the powers that be in Memphis to respect their manhood and to give them a living wage so that they would to be able to support their families as a man should. In the summer and fall of 2014, protesters in Ferguson, MO and Staten Island, NY and then in hundreds of cities around the country carried signs which read “BLACK LIVES MATTER” in response to the rash of killings of unarmed black and brown men and boys by the police. The battle is far from over.


We believed that with each advancement in the civic and political arenas that the lives of African Americans and other people of color would significantly change for the better.  That once we achieved voting rights, open accommodations laws, a lessening of discrimination in employment, being able to live and shop anywhere one wanted to, having access to higher education and increasing the number of elected and appointed officials of color, including, who would have predicted, the highest position in the land, President of the United States, we believed that our work would be done. We believed, as did Dr. King in the dream, “that one day…” Without a doubt, a great deal has changed for the better since 1968. But, the battle is far from over.


Where does the fault lie? Are we as a people not demanding enough, not applying enough pressure? Has our real power dissipated because we no longer have a leader like Dr. King? (Sorry, Rev. Sharpton.) Dr. King pushed the moral compass. Dr. King reached down deep and inspired our spirits to pay witness to the betterment of humankind. Dr. King made us feel that we should be willing to sacrifice for what was right. He knew that it would take more than marches to really bring about the changing of the human heart. And they, those in the establishment and those who hated him, were afraid of Dr. King because they knew that he would not stop. He wanted to change the world we lived in: human rights, ending of war, ending of poverty. And they knew he had the deep spirit to not give up. They also believed that   if we continued to listen to his compelling words, we would not give up either. He was not seeking anything for himself. He told us, “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right”.  He only sought to be true to his call from God and to inspire others to love justice. But the battle is far from over.


Some say that there is no longer a need for the Union of Black Episcopalians, that it has run its course. However, until the battle is over, there will still be a need for a voice within the church that calls for our brothers and sisters to end racism and oppression, economic inequality and sexism. There still needs to be a strong and unwavering voice that recounts the contributions of  black Episcopalians to the goal of full equality in and out of the church. Until the battle is won and the dream is a reality, we are not done.


Only an assassin’s bullet could kill the dreamer. Only a fool would believe that single act would kill the dream of a people. Dr. King believed in the righteousness of the call to love one another and to strive for justice and peace. In his memory, let us not only sing songs, recite poems and visit monuments made of stone. Let us recommit in the name of Martin Luther King, Jr. to continue the battle until victory is won.


The Rev. Kwasi was the UBE Vice-President from 1988-1988, and President from 1988-1990.