For our August holiday this year we were fortunate enough to be able to take a trip to America. We started our tour in Toronto (visiting Niagara Falls whilst there) before heading south to New York, Philadelphia and finally Washington DC. It was a fantastic trip; two weeks of visiting lots of famous places and seeing many sights that will stay with us for a long time to come.
Whilst we were in Washington DC, nearing the end of our holiday, the incident in Charlottesville Virginia took place. This was when 32 year old Heather Heyer was killed when a car drove into a group of people protesting against white supremacists. The incident itself was bad enough, but it was the response from Mr Trump, seemingly blaming ‘many sides’ for the tragedy and refusing to condemn the actions of neo-Nazis and far right activists that continues to cause so much further controversy – and rightly so.
The day following this incident was the day we explored the National Mall in Washington. This is the two mile stretch of parkland in the centre of the city with the Capitol Building at one end and the Lincoln Memorial at the other. Right in the centre is the 555ft. high obelisk commemorating George Washington and all along its length are other memorials and monuments to presidents, generals and veterans of many wars. The US flag is prominent and if I was a US citizen I guess I would be proud!
But there was one memorial that seemed very poignant, especially perhaps on this particular day, and this was the memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. Set just off the National Mall, which is perhaps significant in itself, it features a large granite statue of the Civil Rights Movement leader, and is known as the Stone of Hope. Surrounding the memorial are some of King’s best known quotes from speeches he made during his life. It only opened to the public in 2011 having taking years in the planning and building. Next year marks the 50th anniversary of his assassination.
Going there the day after Charlottesville was a sobering reminder that in spite of all that Martin Luther King fought for and ultimately died for, racism and white supremacy has not gone away. Extreme violence, of which he was so often the target, is still used against peaceful protesters, and those in positions of authority still fail to give clear and unequivocal condemnation of such acts. As a minister of the Gospel, Martin Luther King was called to take a different path – the way of non-violent resistance against the evils of this world, the way of Christ, of the cross. He demonstrated that it is possible to live another way, and set about changing the world by living and dreaming of a better world for all people.
One of the quotes carved into the wall around the memorial says this – 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. In our days of challenge and controversy, are we prepared to stand up for the rights of others and speak out against the injustice that they suffer? Can we learn from the past and dream of a more peaceful future for all?