Each year the Brotherhood of Shiloh Men presents one of the most significant events in the life of our church, the Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Prayer Breakfast. The men have made it their commitment to ensure that the young people of our community and neighborhood are represented during this special observance. This year, the Brotherhood has chosen as their theme at the Prayer Breakfast, Recognizing Women of the Movement. During the Civil Rights Movement, women worked primarily behind the scenes, supporting and advising greats like W. E. B. Dubois, Ralph Abernathy, and Dr. King. Though their roles were overshadowed by the men, women also played important roles at all levels of the movement, from leading local civil rights organizations to serving as lawyers on segregation issues. Their stories increase our understanding of, and appreciation for, the movement and provide us with tangible examples of how essential they were to the advances of the Civil Rights Movement. A few years ago, junior high school students in Nashville, Tennessee were surveyed and asked to name a public figure who was king. The majority responded that Elvis Presley was the king. For those who sacrificed and risked their lives and careers, the legacy that Dr. King left to this nation must never be confused with the leading figure of rockabilly music.
Recently, I watched a video of President Barack Obama angrily denouncing those who ask, “Why should we vote, our votes don’t really matter?” President Obama was correct. Voting matters because it is an insult to civil rights leaders and icons like John Lewis, who nearly lost his life when he took on the American system of segregation. History has almost forgotten the names of civil rights workers Goodman, Schwerner, and Cheney. The trio traveled to heavily segregated Meridian, Mississippi to help organize civil rights efforts, but were brutalized, tortured, and murdered by white supremacists. The depth of racial hatred is so firmly ensconced as a principal embraced by right-wing politicians that Ronald Reagan choose to announce his reelection campaign in Meridian. Richard Milhouse Nixon was well-aware of the deep racial animosities in this nation. When Lyndon B. Johnson brought a victory for civil rights workers and the nation by passing the Voting Rights Act, Mr. Nixon immediately pursued what he and his cronies called the Southern Strategy. That strategy was not just a dog whistle, it was a foghorn to alert the racists in our society, particularly in the South, that he was their man. We can never forget the valiant leadership of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who in 1968 was martyred for the cause of freedom. Our deepest thanks to the Brotherhood of Shiloh Men for recognizing the contributions of women of the Civil Rights Movement and for making sure that Dr. King’s legacy will never be forgotten.