“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige, and even his life for the welfare of others. In dangerous valleys and hazardous pathways, he will lift some bruised and beaten brother to a higher and more noble life.”
When Dr. Martin Luther King wrote those stirring words in 1963, he was up to his neck in controversies, struggling to build a movement and gain support for the cause of civil rights. In August that same year, he would lead the now-legendary March on Washington.
When he addressed that crowd of nearly a quarter million men, women, and children from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. King laid out for all Americans a dream of reconciliation and renewal that would change the conversation about race relations forever. He helped America to understand that reconciliation isn’t about division but addition, and about the process of bringing us together as a nation.
But five years after that heroic event, the man who had done more than any other to bring healing to the wounds that separated blacks and whites, who had proposed a revolutionary vision of nonviolent protest, and who had broken the back of Jim Crow laws in the South, was taken from us at the height of his powers. The irony of his death—that a man so full of charity and compassion for others would be felled by an assassin’s bullet—wounded us all. Yet, his dream did not die. The dream grew larger, and Dr. King became larger than life—such things often happen with prophets. But it didn’t stop there, for we’re all his descendants –whether black or white, Christian, Muslim, or Jew.
One of the best commentaries on race to occur recently was a discussion entitled "Race and the New Congress" held at Williams College in Massachusetts just under two weeks after the election. On November 17, 2008, Leslie Stahl from 60 Minutes served as a moderator for a town hall style meeting that included nine members of the Black Congressional Caucus.
Before I discuss the important thoughts shared in the discussion, I need to share my biases. First of all, I have often found myself at odds with the Caucus - their policies, practices, and choices. Despite my philosophical differences with them as a group, they understand the politics and race nexus better than any group of people in the nation.
Secondly, I have long standing ties to Williams College (my undergraduate alma mater and the alma mater of both my daughters). My pro-Williams attitude led me to listen intently to the discussion and helped me find the nuggets of truth within the event.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.