Yesterday seemed a good day to revisit my copy of A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. Included in Part II (Famous Sermons and Public Addresses) is his "Eulogy for the Martyred Children"—delivered at the funeral for the young girls murdered in the 1963 bombing of Birmingham's 16th Street Baptist Church. Two years ago, I spent a weekend in Birmingham, AL and attended the Sunday-morning service at 16th Street Baptist Church. I entered alone with a bit of trepidation. For all its historic significance, it remains a relatively small congregation, and I stood out like a sore thumb. I was underdressed and under-pigmented (ie the only white person in attendance), but that visit was easily the highlight of my trip. I don't know that I've ever been so moved by prayer or singing, and the sermon did not disappoint.
The first thing to strike me about Dr. King's 16th Street memorial address was the title given to his sermon: "Eulogy for the Martyred Children." By definition, a martyr is someone who "willingly suffers death" rather than renounce a "religion" or "belief." Strictly speaking, that's not what happened on that tragic Sunday morning in Birmingham. Addie Mae Collins (14), Cynthia Wesley (14), Carole Robertson (14) and Denise McNair (11) were not killed for their religion or beliefs. They were killed for the color of their skin. And they did not die for any professed allegiance to the civil rights movement. They died without warning because a bomb blew up in their Sunday School class.
I make this distinction not to criticize Dr. King's assertion that these girls were martyrs, but to point out that it was a martyrdom wholly beyond their control—which makes their deaths even more tragic. "These children," Dr. King notes, were "unoffending; innocent and beautiful." In life, they were unnoticed on the national scene. In death, King asserts, they have something to say to everyone. And the first audience he addresses is not the KKK, but rather "every minister of the gospel who has remained silent behind the safe security of stained-glass windows." Continuing, he declares that the deaths of these four girls comdemn "every Negro who has passively accepted the evil system of segregation and who has stood on the sidelines in a mighty struggle for justice." Finally, their deaths say to each of us, "black and white alike… that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers."
Dr. King knew that culpability for this crime went well beyond the men in white hoods who detonated the bomb. In large measure, this crime was only possible because of the silence of the church and the unwillingness of decent people to publicly challenge an unjust system. And so it is with abortion. But this reality did not leave Dr. King in despair; it simply drove him deeper into the faith that sustained everything he did. He continues:
…in spite of the darkness of this hour we must not despair. We must not become bitter; nor must we harbor the desire to retaliate with violence. We must not lose faith in our white brothers. Somehow we must believe that the most misguided among them can learn to respect the dignity and the worth of all human personality.
Here again, the connection to abortion is a powerful one. As Dr. King said some years earlier in his "American Dream" speech, "moral ends" can only be achieved through "moral means." Why? Because "the end is preexistent in the means." Elsewhere in that speech he makes a few more observations that are well worth considering by anyone who sees a connection between the children martyred by the KKK in 1963 and the children martyred by abortion today. Addressing the 1961 graduates of Lincoln University, King tells them:
- Each individual has certain basic rights that are neither conferred by nor derived from the state. To discover where they came from it is necessary to move back behind the dim mist of eternity, for they are God-given.
- Through our scientific genius we have made of this world a neighborhood: now through our moral and spiritual development we must make of it a brotherhood… We must keep our moral and spiritual progress abreast with our scientific and technological advances. This poses another dilemma of modern man. We have allowed our civilization to outdistance our culture.
- …it is a torturous logic that views the tragic results of segregation and discrimination as an argument for the continuation of it.
- Even a superficial look at history shows that social progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless effort and the persistent work of dedicated individuals.
- We need religion and education to change attitudes and to change the hearts of men. We need legislation and federal action to control behavior. It may be true that the law can't make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that's pretty important too.
- I call upon you not to be detached spectators, but involved participants, in this great drama that is taking place in our nation and around the world.
- Certainly all of us want to live a well-adjusted life in order to avoid the neurotic personality. But I say to you, there are certain things within our social order to which I am proud to be maladjusted and to which I call upon all men of good will to be maladjusted.
What a remarkable thing that one of our greatest American heros, a man lionized by virtually all sectors of society, was so unapologetically religious. What are politically-correct historians to do with a man like that? MLK spoke of America as a schizophrenic personality—one that "proudly professed the principles of democracy," but practiced the "very antithesis." I suppose our historical treatment of Martin Luther King, Jr. exhibits much the same schizophrenia. As we increasingly mock biblical conviction and increasingly demand that religion not influence public policy, we still manage to celebrate the life of a humble Christian minister who changed the world by refusing to keep his religion private.
Michael Spielman is the founder and director of Abort73.com. Subscribe to Michael's Substack for his latest articles and recordings. His book, Love the Least (A Lot), is available as a free download. Abort73 is part of Loxafamosity Ministries, a 501c3, Christian education corporation. If you have been helped by the information available at Abort73.com, please consider making a donation.