Hundreds of people filled the pews of Central United Methodist Church in downtown Detroit on Monday to hear some mighty speechifying before venturing out into the frigid afternoon for a march down Woodward Avenue to Hart Plaza.
The occasion was Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Placards bearing the words of the slain civil rights leader were hung like Stations of the Cross in the sanctuary, and they rang as true today as they did when first issued in the ’50s and ’60s. With the Rev. Ed Rowe leading a line of speakers that included U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, U.S. Rep. John Conyers, Detroit City Council member Alberta Tinsley-Talabi and Imam Dawud Muhammad, the day’s theme returned again and again to the inevitably linked issues of peace and social justice.
Rowe set the tone as he segued from issuing a call for peace in the Middle East to describing the price paid by citizens living in a country that, because of its proclivity for waging war, has become what he described as “the most hated nation on Earth.” Meanwhile, with ever-larger shares of our budget being consumed by Bush’s Iraq adventure, poverty and deprivation grow more acute at home. He described watching a man suffering from frostbite stand waiting more than an hour and a half in subfreezing weather for a city bus to come.
Telling those assembled that “a time comes when silence is betrayal,” Rowe, standing before a pulpit King himself preached from just weeks before his assassination, admonished the crowd that just raising voices in protest is not enough.
The event, infused with uplifting song, also had at least one lighter moment when Tinsley-Talabi read from a proclamation signed by all members of the council demanding an end to the occupation of Iraq.
“If you can get all of City Council to sign anything, you know that the Age of Miracles is not yet over,” quipped Rowe.
Hallelujah to that.
Conyers, who talked of receiving an endorsement in this same church from King when he first ran for Congress in the early ’60s, received a hero’s welcome from the crowd. The man who has taken the forefront in attempting to get to the bottom of the “voting irregularities” that went down in last year’s presidential election described King as “the greatest prophet of the 20th century.” A tape of one of King’s speeches showed with stunning clarity why that description is far from hyperbolic.
Railing against a society withering beneath the shadows of racism, materialism and militarism, King warned, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
The day’s message was clear: If that parade down Woodward Avenue Monday is to be anything more than a funeral procession, it must be followed by organized, concerted effort to further the causes of peace and social justice.
“If all we do is walk to Hart Plaza,” Rowe chided, “we could have stayed home.”
Do we have an amen to that, brothers and sisters?
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