As we celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., let us hope to realize the simple yet profound impact his life and ministry has had on our nation, whether we see Dr. King as a biblical Old Testament prophet advocating America to live up to its potential as a nation “blessed by God” or as a man of his time who not only believed in equality and justice for all but felt obligated to answer the call to conscience. Being a Christian minister, Martin Luther King Jr. believed in Christ working through our conscience to attain that sense of being that many Americans share: out of many, one. But to get there meant for many to get rid of some deep–rooted prejudices and perceptions of other people. The civil rights struggle was and still is a time for America to confront some attitudes and beliefs that were contrary to the soul, but prevalent in the United States of America at the time.
One story stuck out for me in 2013: the obituary April 1 of Elwin Hope Wilson. Wilson was a former
supporter of the KKK in the South during the civil rights movement. Wilson was directly involved in
violence against African–Americans, including a brutal beating of Georgia Rep. John Lewis at a
bus station in 1961. Before he passed away, Wilson answered the question as to why he came to actually making amends:
All I can say is that it has bothered me for years, all the bad stuff I've done; and I found out there is
no way I could be saved and get to heaven and still not like blacks.
Wilson did get opportunities to apologize to those he mistreated, including Lewis. Wilson was a moral leader because he accepted responsibility for what he did. He found peace with God and with his fellow man.
More important, Wilson paid attention to that voice of conscience. In turn, the doors to love, peace and reconciliation were open to him. It helped heal wounds within him, with those he hurt and in our nation.
We, as a people, have the moral authority and the power to facilitate love and forgiveness. Martin Luther King Jr. understood this, and his faith urged him to appeal to the “higher angels” in the American spirit so we may realize this truth as self–evident.
We are not unlike Martin Luther King Jr., nor Elwin Hope Wilson, for we all have our prejudices. By ridding prejudice in ourselves, we become better people because we see more clearly. By being responsible, Wilson was blessed to know he was saved and experience the power of reconciliation and forgiveness.
The true beauty of King's contribution to the American spirit is in regard to war. King could not stand back and let the Vietnam War kill the soul of America. Knowing his stand could probably cost him his life, Brother Martin still answered the call. In that sense, and like Wilson, he is like all the veterans who fought for the spiritual destiny of America. They answered the call. We could all benefit profoundly by their courageous example.