Monday, January 16, 2012

Martin Luther King: A Love Letter From Arizona

Dear Martin:

You were shot three weeks after I was ordained. I was finishing my theology training in St. Paul. The whole school marched the  median of Summit Avenue all the way to the capitol that sad day.

Young mainstream clergy tended to be social liberals then -- not about gay marriage, which never crossed our minds in 1968-- but about other basic civil rights.

We knew you were an imperfect young man even then, but what a leader. What a visionary. You were my first Black hero (though not the last).

Eighteen years after you died, Ronald Reagan declared an annual paid holiday for government workers. All 50 states got in line.

The next year, 1987, the Arizona governor rescinded the holiday for our state, igniting a long fight and a failed referendum to restore your day.  It wasn't until the early 1990's that Arizonans got a chance to vote on it again.  By then we'd been thoroughly lobbied, educated, and persuaded, and threatened economically.  For whatever reason, voters finally approved the celebration, in a landslide.  We're the only state in the Union to have a plebiscite about your holiday, by the way.

Martin, I'm sad to say that veiled hatred still includes blacks, but few dare to admit it these days.  Instead, Arizona has taken the lead nationally in targeting poor Mexicans, and too many voters are proud of it.  There are strong voices that speak for the millions of Latinos in our midst, but no great leader has yet emerged. It took a hundred years for you to rise up in strength.  If I prayed to saints, I'd pray to you today to send us another leader.