Birthday of Haile Selassie: Rastafari celebrate key anniversaries in 2016

1936 Haile Selassie as TIME magazine's Man of the YearSATURDAY, JULY 23: Rastafari far and wide hold Nyabingi drumming sessions and revel in the birthday anniversary of their God incarnate, Haile Selassie.

And in 2016, followers of Selassie are marking anniversaries of two milestones in his life—news stories that are relevant today to a far wider audience. It is bittersweet to look back in this era of Black Lives Matter and reflect on the many tragic barriers this emerging African leader faced in the 1930s and even in the more enlightened 1960s.

ORIGINS—Beginnings were meager for this emperor-to-be, born in a mud hut in Ethiopia, in 1892. Selassie—originally named Tafari Makonnen—was a governor’s son, assuming the throne of Ethiopia in a complex struggle for succession. The nation’s leaders favored Tafari for the role of emperor—and, in 1930, he was crowned. Selassie would become Ethiopia’s last emperor, and today, he is viewed as the messiah of the Rastafari. (Biography.com has more on Selassie’s life.)

Years prior to Haile Selassie’s enthronement, American black-nationalist leader Marcus Garvey began preaching of a coming messiah who would lead the peoples of Africa, and the African diaspora, into freedom. When news of Selassie’s coronation reached Jamaica, it became evident to some that Selassie was this foretold of messiah. (Wikipedia has details.) Beyond the prophesies in the Book of Revelation and New Testament that Rastafari point to as proof of Selassie’s status, the emperor also could trace his lineage back to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Rastafari pointed to Selassie as the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David and the King of Kings.

Selassie remained a lifelong Christian, but never reproached the Rastafari for their beliefs in him as the returned messiah. To this day, Rastafari rejoice on July 23, the anniversary of his birth.

Did you know? The Rastafari receive their name from the combination of Ras—an honorific title, meaning “head”—and Tafari, part of Selassie’s birth name.

2016 SELASSIE ANNIVERSARIES

80th ANNIVERSARY—This year (2016) is the 80th anniversary of an impassioned appeal for help that Selassie delivered to the League of Nations in 1936. It’s also the 80th anniversary of TIME magazine naming him its Man of the Year.

The magazine’s “honor,” today, looks like nothing but ridicule for what TIME editors regarded as a foolish figure on the global stage. Dripping with sarcasm and openly racist, the TIME profile of Selassie included this description of him:

The astounding marvel is that Africa’s unique Museum of Peoples has produced a businessman—with high-pressure publicity, compelling sales talk, the morals of a patent medicine advertisement, a grasp of both savage and diplomatic mentality, and finally with plenty of what Hollywood calls “it.”

Selassie was in a life-and-death struggle with Italian aggression in his homeland. The TIME cover story appeared in January 1936. International opinions of Selassie changed dramatically that summer when he made a passionate plea for help in a personal appearance before the League of Nations in Europe. His plea did not result in the help he sought, but the appeal now is considered a milestone in 20th century history. William Safire included the League address in his book, Great Speeches in American History.

After January, when TIME made fun of Selassie in its openly racist cover story, the world witnessed Italian armed forces brutally crushing Selassie’s Ethiopian army and conquering his country, declaring the nation to be the property of Italy. Selassie did not want to flee the country but did so for his own safety at the urging of Ethiopian leaders. He arrived in Geneva and delivered the plea to the League, excerpts of which were carried in newsreels around the world.

At one point, he declared:

I pray to Almighty God that He may spare nations the terrible sufferings that have just been inflicted on my people, and of which the chiefs who accompany me here have been the horrified witnesses.

The tragic aftermath of this speech was that the League did not help him, Fascists continued to take power in Europe and soon all of Europe was experiencing the “terrible sufferings” Selassie described.

50th ANNIVERSARY—Each spring, Rastafari celebrate Groundation Day, marking Selassie’s triumphant visit to Jamaica in 1966—50 years ago this year. Some remarkable LIFE magazine photographs from that event are on display in the TIME website. They’re worth a look, partly because these photos by Lynn Pelham never ran in the American edition of LIFE. Now, we are able to look back at what the magazine describes this way:

The images capture something of the fervor and delight, as well as the barely restrained chaos, among thousands of believers upon seeing the man they considered a messiah—and whom countless others still view as a power-hungry fraud. Informal observations made by LIFE staffers who were there provide some fascinating insights into how the proceedings were viewed—hint: negatively—by at least some in the national press.

In notes that accompanied Pelham’s rolls of Ektachrome film to LIFE’s offices in New York just days after Selassie’s visit, for example, an editor for the magazine wrote privately to his colleagues that “the Rastafarians went wild on Selassie’s arrival. They broke police lines and swarmed around the emperor’s DC-6 [plane]. They kept touching his plane, yelling ‘God is here,’ and knocking down photographer Pelham, who got smacked. The Rastafarians fouled up the visit, as far as most Jamaicans were concerned. But Selassie seemed to love the attention these strange, wild-eyed, lawless and feared Jamaicans gave him.”

Interested in more? View a modern Rastafari celebration for Haile Selassie’s birthday here.

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Categories: AnniversaryRastafari

Juneteenth Independence Day: U.S. Senate establishes title as events expand

Group of African-American singers under white tent

A Gospel choir sings for a Juneteenth celebration in Maryland. (Photo by Elvert Barnes, courtesy of Flickr)

SUNDAY, JUNE 19: Barbecues and street fairs, gospel concerts and prayer services take place across the nation today in celebration of the oldest known commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States: Juneteenth, also known as Emancipation Day.

NEWS: Last year, the U.S. Senate established the 19th of June as Juneteenth Independence Day. Juneteenth is now an official observance in 43 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

June doesn’t mark the Emancipation Proclamation itself; instead, this holiday recalls the date, more than two years later, when slaves in Texas were finally freed and former Confederates were forced to recognize the Proclamation.

Though slaves had been freed more than two years earlier under President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, slaves in the deep South had felt minimum impact.With the surrender of General Lee in April 1865, Northern forces were now strong enough to overcome resistance in the South. On June 18, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger and 2,000 federal troops reached Galveston, Texas, to enforce emancipation. And on June 19, Granger read aloud the contents of “General Order No.3.” The Order read, in part:

Group of African American men and women in formal dress, black-and-white photo

Juneteenth celebration in Austin, Texas, on June 19, 1900. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with the Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.”

In reaction to the news, men and women who had been enslaved danced in the streets. Some immediately left their former masters in search of freedom or to find family members. The next year, freedmen organized the first annual “Juneteenth” celebrations in Texas, using public parks, church grounds and newly purchased land for the jubilant parties.

Did you know? Juneteenth celebrations declined in the early 20th century, but came back into favor during the Civil Rights movement. In 1980, Juneteenth became an official state holiday in Texas.

Many of the largest Juneteenth celebrations today can still be found in Texas (though not far behind are those in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Minneapolis, Minnesota). The most established Emancipation parks—bought by some of the first freed slaves of the South, specifically for large June 19 gatherings—are still thriving today.

Did you know? Juneteenth is a linguistic portmanteau, meaning that it is a blend of words. It fuses “June” and “Nineteenth.”

Major institutions such as the Smithsonian and Henry Ford Museum have begun sponsoring Juneteenth activities, and in many areas, portions of General Order Number 3 are read. Juneteenth has, from its beginnings, focused on education and self-improvement, and celebrations often include public readings of the writings of noted African-American writers and singing.

Barbecued chicken on the barbecue

Photo by thebittenword.com, courtesy of Flickr

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Looking for more?

Learn the history of Juneteenth from the Library of Congress and PBS.

Recipes fit for the day are at Betty Crocker and American Food Roots.

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Categories: National Observances

JUNE themes: Caribbean, African-American, LGBT and cat awareness

JUNE 2014: This month, groups of Americans will celebrate Caribbean Americans, African-American music, Gay Pride—and the adoption of cats. Among the business groups claiming June as a promotional month is the American dairy industry. Back in 1937, dairy farmers declared June National Milk Month and later the campaign expanded into National Dairy Month. Today, dairy-free folks also celebrate Dairy Alternatives Month in June. Among other food industries claiming June are producers of iced tea, seafood—and okra! Throughout June, you’ll also see news about National Fireworks Safety Month, an important theme as Americans prepare for their July 4 celebrations.
Here are a few of the bigger month-long celebrations …

Caribbean-American Heritage Month

Celebrate National Caribbean American Month

Click the logo to visit the official site.

Over the past three centuries, millions of men and women have moved to what is now the United States from the 700 islands known as the Caribbean. In 2006, the U.S. Congress called for an annual season honoring this group. Each year, the White House issues a proclamation designating June as Caribbean-American Heritage Month. This year, President Obama declared: “Caribbean Americans have contributed to every aspect of our society—from science and medicine to business and the arts.

AFRICAN-AMERICAN MUSIC APPRECIATION MONTH

National Museum of African American History and CultureLike the Caribbean-themed campaign, African-American musicians urged officials in Washington D.C. to honor their contribution to our nation’s culture. They succeeded in 1979, when President Jimmy Carter held a White House reception and named “Black Music Month.” Later, the idea was renamed, the White House remains involved—and plans are underway to have an annual June emphasis on music at the still-under-development Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. That museum is expected to open in 2015.

LGBT PRIDE MONTH

Stonewall Inn in New York City

Click this photo of the Stonewall Inn to visit the Wikipedia page about the Stonewall riots.

The late gay-rights activist and feminist Brenda Howard is credited with touching off the movement that led to today’s month-long series of LGBT Pride events. She helped to organize the first annual march to commemorate the Stonewall Riots in late June of 1969. Only two presidents have made annual declarations of this special month: Bill Clinton once and Barack Obama in each recent year. This year, the White House declaration says in part: “As progress spreads from State to State, as justice is delivered in the courtroom, and as more of our fellow Americans are treated with dignity and respect—our Nation becomes not only more accepting, but more equal as well. During Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month, we celebrate victories that have affirmed freedom and fairness, and we recommit ourselves to completing the work that remains.

INTERFAITH CALENDAR

You will enjoy our entire Interfaith Calendar of holidays and anniversaries. An easy way to reach that master index: Remember the URL InterfaithHolidays.com

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Categories: National Observances

‘I Have a Dream’ echoes as millions recall Martin Luther King, Jr.

Black-and-white photo of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. waving to a crowd in Washington, D.C.

Fifty years ago today, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered an address that would become known as the “I Have a Dream” speech. Above, Dr. King waves to the crowd of 250,000 that had come to witness his speech. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

“And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., August 28, 1963

Holidays & Festivals Column Covers This Historic Milestone …

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 28: It was a moment so thick with tension, and so opportune for mounting violence, that TIME Magazine voiced what every American seemed to be sensing: “The moment seems to be now.” For better or for worse, America was teetering on the brink of change: conflicts over civil rights were gathering speed at an alarming rate, as police used violent means against protestors and the FBI bugged activists’ phones.

It was in this perilous moment that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. stepped to the microphone at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. and became what TIME Magazine today describes as: “a new founding father” and “the moral leader of the nation.”

I have a dream today!”

Caught in the passion of the moment and the 250,000 onlookers who had come to support the speakers, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. dropped his papers and ad-libbed a portion of his speech. Nearby, the gospel singer Mahalia Jackson called to him: “Tell them about the dream, Martin!” Originally intended as “The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” Dr. King’s words now echo around the world. This week, TIME declares in a special issue on the March and the Speech: “Casting aside his script, King reset every standard for political oratory. Presidents ever since ahve been trying to match his words, power and moral authority.”

King quoted the Bible, Shakespeare and Abraham Lincoln, referenced the United States Constitution and current events, before sharing his dream with the crowd. Coretta Scott King remarked that it was “as if heaven had come down to earth … like the kingdom of God had descended on the Lincoln Memorial right there in our midst.”

I have a dream today!”

Dr. King’s speech would alter the course of the civil rights movement from that day forward. At the anniversary, from Washington to New Hampshire to Switzerland to Tokyo—bell ceremonies will literally “let freedom ring,” as Dr. King requested at the end of his speech, on this day in 1963.

The ‘Dream,’ the Hopes—and Reality

How did the world change? And how much did it change? By some measures, America and the world changed a lot because of the March on Washington and King’s enduring message. One way to see the global change is to read a series of four short profiles on the origins of King’s peacemaking—and the legacy of his teaching—written by Daniel Buttry.

But in America? In terms of real economic change—one of the central themes of the March—surprisingly little has changed. Gaps remain in some major measures of economic equality across race and ethnicity. Sociologist Dr. Wayne Baker, creator of the OurValues project, reports on striking new conclusions drawn by the Pew center based on nationwide research.

NEWS ABOUT A COMIC BOOK … and more …

REP. JOHN LEWIS AND THE COMIC BOOK: Quite a few news headlines and TV reports over the past week have focused on  U.S. Rep. John Lewis, the last remaining speaker from the March. Lewis is prominent in TIME magazine’s special issue. He is especially popular, these days, for becoming the first U.S. Congressman to publish a comic book: The March. Read our separate story today that tells why Lewis agreed to create this historic comic series about the civil rights movement.

NEWS ABOUT KING’S ‘LETTER FROM THE BIRMINGHAM JAIL’—Today, Duncan Newcomer reviews Gospel of Freedom, a new book by Jonathan Rieder that tells the story behind King’s most famous letter. Americans also are celebrating the 50th anniversary of that letter, this year.

‘HOW DR. KING ALMOST GOT ME FIRED’—Edward McNulty now is best known as a leading writer on faith and film, but in the late 1950s he was a young pastor and was deeply inspired by King’s message. In a new column, McNulty writes about how that inspiration led him into an unexpectedly tough confrontation.

A LETTER FROM PRISON,
CASH FROM ROCKEFELLER AND GROWING APPREHENSION

Black-and-white photo of Dr. Martin Luther King delivering I Have a Dream speech

Photo courtesy of Flickr

Friend, advisor and lawyer Clarence Jones recently reported in an interview that excitement for the march began when newspapers published Dr. King’s letter to him, from jail—and it was Nelson Rockefeller who met Jones with a bag of $100,000 in cash to bail Dr. King out of jail. Following bail, Dr. King hid in Jones’ home for six weeks before the March on Washington.

Apprehension had been mounting in the weeks leading to March day, and President Kennedy had unsuccessfully tried to thwart the event in talks with civil rights leaders. At the time, a Gallup poll revealed that 60 percent of Americans disapproved of the march, or didn’t think it would accomplish anything. (A USA Today column goes in depth.) Though speakers had agreed they would keep these events calm and orderly, extra measures were taken and thousands of troops were deployed, nearby businesses shut down and the city banned liquor sales.

When the March on Washington proved a success, few Americans had changed their perspective on the civil rights movement. It didn’t take long to sink in, however, and in the wake of the march and speech, King was named TIME’s Man of the Year. In 1964, Dr. King became the youngest person to be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. In 2002, the Library of Congress added King’s speech to the United States National Recording Registry; one year later, the National Park Service inscribed words from Dr. King’s speech into the step where he had stood at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963.

IN THE NEWS:
THE OWNER OF THE SPEECH, CLARENCE JONES & ATLANTA’S GATHERING

Inscription on Lincoln Memorial stairs of 'I Have a Dream'

The spot where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood while delivering his speech is inscribed in his memory. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

It was 50 years ago when George Raveling, a 26-year-old former college basketball star, was recruited to volunteer at a speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. Though few could predict the lasting influence of this particular speech, it was Raveling who casually asked Dr. King for the paper copy of the speech, following its deliverance—and it’s Raveling who owns the original paper speech today. (Read the story at CBS News.) Decades passed before the former basketball coach realized the importance of what he kept informally tucked in an autobiography of Harry Truman, and in 1984, the revelation came to light. Raveling says he has been offered $3.5 million for the document—which, ironically, doesn’t contain the words “I have a dream” anywhere—but will never sell it. “The speech belongs to America, the speech belongs to black folks,” he said in an interview. “It doesn’t belong to me, and it would be sacrilegious of me to try and sell it to profit from it.” (View the paper copy of the speech at archives.gov.)

TIME Magazine has pulled out all the stops for the “I Have a Dream” anniversary, launching a multimedia site—Time.com/time/onedream—as well as its special issue dedicated to event’s 50th. The multimedia site contains 10 videos, courtesy of Red Border Films, all of which give testimonials from the key people who made the march a success.

In an interview with the UK’s Mirror News, Clarence Jones recalls jotting down several paragraphs of ideas for Dr. King’s speech the night before, many of which King used in his address. Yet what had been planned as a four-minute speech quadrupled in length when, from the crowd, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson inspired King. Variations of the “dream” speech had been heard elsewhere before, but never was it delivered at a more appropriate time—or to a more fitting audience—than on that day in Washington. (Wikipedia had details.)

Celebrants in Atlanta will gather by the thousands this week for the Atlanta Global Freedom Expo, which will showcase storytelling from the ground crew who attended the march; display period entertainment and dance; feature food demonstrations and an open house at Dr. King’s birthplace. (Get more information from wsbtv.com.) The event is free.

“Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

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Categories: AnniversaryInternational ObservancesNational Observances

Birthday of Marcus Garvey: John the Baptist-style prophet to many

Group of African Americans drumming and dancing in a park

Drum circle, Marcus Garvey Park, Harlem, New York City. Photo courtesy of Flickr

“With confidence, you have won before you have started.”
Marcus Garvey

Click the DVD cover to visit its Amazon page.

Click the DVD cover to visit its Amazon page.

SATURDAY, AUGUST 17: From reggae bands to kids in Buffalo, from Rastafari to Africans of the Diaspora—all mark the birth anniversary of Marcus Garvey, born on this date in 1887. A Jamaican-born black nationalist who created the “Back to Africa” movement in the United States and is regarded as a prophet by the Rastafari religion, Garvey spent his life globetrotting for the cause of empowering Africans. Among his most notable accomplishments are the creation of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and African Communities League, which together claimed millions of members at the height of Garvey’s popularity.

Components of his philosophy for African economic empowerment and awareness, known as “Garveyism,” remain well-known today. Garvey was named the first national hero of Jamaica in 1964.

Q: Who was the first recipient of the Marcus Garvey Prize for Human Rights?
A: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Read more about Garvey at Wikipedia. At Read The Spirit, we also recommend the excellent PBS American Experience production, now available on DVD: The American Experience: Marcus Garvey, Look for Me in the Whirlwind. PBS still maintains the website for the documentary, which includes a transcript and other educational materials.

Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr. was born in an impoverished Jamaica to a wealthy family. From his father, Garvey inherited a vast library and a love of reading, which led him to become well-educated by the time he left school at age 14. From this young age Garvey traveled the world, and at age 27, he founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Reputation exceeded the public speaker, and Garvey’s tours often centered on topics like race pride, social and economic freedom, and unity. In 1935, Garvey moved to London, where he died of a stroke five years later.

A RASTAFARI PROPHET:
JOHN THE BAPTIST & MARCUS GARVEY

During his speeches throughout the 1920s, Garvey often spoke grandly of a vision he had of the future—the appearance of a “black king” in Africa that would soon be crowned, thereby granting deliverance. In one speech, Garvey declared:

“I was determined that the black man would not continue to be kicked about, as I had seen in Central America, and as I read of it in America. Where is the black man’s government? Where is his King and his kingdom? Where is his President, his country, his men of big affairs? I could not find them, and then I declared, ‘I will help to make them.’ My brain was afire.”

After hearing many similar declarations, Garvey’s followers naturally kept a close eye on news from Africa. When Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia was crowned in 1930, members of the Rastafari religion—many of whom regard Selassie as a Messiah—hailed Garvey as a religious prophet. Some regard Garvey as the reincarnation of John the Baptist.

IN THE NEWS:
A BUFFALO ESSAY CONTEST & AFRO-MEXICAN REGGAE

A local essay contest in Buffalo, New York, is set to assist the mayor in solving some of the city’s most pressing issues–from the perspective of students in grades 6 through 12. Participants will take the perspective of city mayor in solving challenges like violence, unemployment and education. (Buffalo News reports.) According to sponsor Eva Doyle, students can earn extra credit by incorporating the principles of Marcus Garvey and Garveyism into their answers.

In San Diego, bands and fans will gather at the WorldBeat Center on Aug. 18, for a tribute to the legacy of Marcus Garvey. A Mexican reggae band will mix African and Mexican cultures, in a way that organizers hope will tackle prejudice and promote unity.

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Categories: International ObservancesRastafari

50th Anniversary of Dr. ML King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail (plus National Card and Letter Writing Month)

THE INFAMOUS BIRMINGHAM JAIL: This recreation of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s cell in the Birmingham Jail is part of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. Photograph by Adam Jones, released for public use.

THE INFAMOUS BIRMINGHAM JAIL: This is a recreation of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s cell in the Birmingham Jail in the spring of 1963. This exhibit is part of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. (Photograph by Adam Jones, released for public use.)

APRIL to MAY 12, 2013: The annual campaign called “National Card and Letter Writing Month” runs through Mother’s Day—or, at least, this celebration is supposed to cover that period and focus on Moms. This year, however, the mid-April emphasis on letter writing has taken a dramatic turn with the April 16 milestone in American civil rights: the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail.

What is ‘National Card and Letter Writing Month?
A big-budget campaign kicked this idea into high gear for the 2008 release of the HBO mini-series John Adams. (It’s still a great choice on DVD.) The producers partnered with the US Postal Service and encouraged school children to put ink on paper. The campaign did, indeed, inspire countless letters. It’s “countless” today because the Postal Service and HBO have removed materials about the campaign from the Internet. Nevertheless, the annual “month” continues to show up on many calendars of cultural events—and, hey, it’s still a terrific idea, don’t you think? Get out a pen and paper now—or make a greeting card—and send Mom an early Mother’s Day greeting.

OTHER LETTER-WRITING FESTIVALS

If you’re scratching your head about this particular “month,” you may be recalling other festivals of letter writing that have spanned the past century. Among the many other independently proclaimed holidays is a National Letter Writing Day. There also is a National Letter Writing Week. Each indie effort, supported by various groups, still has supporters. These other festivals span the calendar—one starts each year in January, after the Christmas card flood has ebbed; another comes in autumn.

But in 2013, as in 2008, there is fresh historical fuel for April letters …

50TH ANNIVERSARY OF LETTER FROM BIRMINGHAM JAIL

TUESDAY, APRIL 16, 2013: The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “letter” was more of a jigsaw puzzle that now has many godfathers claiming its birth. Also, the letter should be remembered not as an impulsive note—but as a strategic step planned in advance like many of the great milestones in the civil rights movement. Today, King’s letter is dated to April 16, 1963, although the letter was completed over a longer period than that one day. The long manifesto was a rebuke of eight religious leaders who had just (on April 12) made a public appeal for an end to confrontational demonstrations. The clergymen included Catholic, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist leaders, plus a rabbi. They called for the campaign to move from the streets to the courts. King’s famous letter told the nation why that plea was naive.

ORIGIN OF KING’S LETTER FROM THE BIRMINGHAM JAIL

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking in 1962. This often-reproduced photo originally appeared in the New York World Telegram & Sun and later was donated to the Library of Congress for public use.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking in 1962. This often-reproduced photo originally appeared in the New York World Telegram & Sun and later was donated to the Library of Congress for public use.

Earlier this year, Americans were reminded of the letter’s origin, when poet and longtime New York Times editor Harry Shapiro died. As editor of The New York Times Magazine in the early 1960s, Shapiro telephoned the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and asked that King use a future time in jail to write a letter to the nation. This was a challenge for King, because Southern jails were notoriously inhospitable places. Nevertheless, King used his jailing in the spring of 1963 to begin jotting passages for his most famous letter—on torn-off pieces of old newspapers. These fragments were passed to his lawyers and then were assembled at SCLC headquarters and conveyed to Shapiro. Unfortunately for his career as an editor, Shapiro’s most historic acquisition was deemed unacceptable for publication by his bosses.

Perhaps understandably after half a century, everyone involved in the release of King’s letter recalls the publication through a personal lens. The Shapiro obituary in the New York Times mentions the Christian Century, among other publications that finally spread King’s letter coast to coast. Meanwhile, the Christian Century’s own in-depth history of the letter doesn’t mention Shapiro and, instead, focuses on the Christian Century’s own role.

The Christian Century history says, in part: “The Century had itself counseled moderation in the late 1950s, although not without an acute awareness that ‘to plead for time for white Americans’ education and conversion is at the same time to ask Negro Americans for more patience with the insufferable, more making-do with the present possibilities of action. It is to risk misinterpretation to knuckling under to white bitter-enders.’ By 1963, the magazine had run out of patience. ‘Why not now?’ the editors asked in March on the eve of the Birmingham demonstrations. … The Century reported and commented fully on racial politics in Birmingham and elsewhere, publishing more articles on race relations in 1963 than on any other subject.

And the impact of King’s letter? It ignited both renewed passion among civil rights veterans—and fresh allegiance from other men and women who had been on the sidelines of the struggle until King’s eloquent letter urged them to take action. The University of Pennsylvania is one of many colleges that offers a complete online text of King’s famous letter.

Months after publishing the letter, the Christian Century reported that “it had received over 50 responses to the letter from readers, all of them favorable. ‘In all my years of reading your periodical,’ one declared, ‘I have never been more moved by a single issue. What a shaking experience! If the canon of Holy Scriptures were not closed, I would nominate Martin Luther King’s statement either as a continuation of the Acts of the Apostles or as an addition to the Epistles in the best tradition of the Pauline prison letters.’

2013 EVENTS ON KING’S LETTER FROM BIRMINGHAM JAIL

BIRMINGHAM GATHERING OF CHRISTIAN CHURCHES TOGETHER: The nationwide ecumenical organization called Christian Churches Together is convening a two-day conference in Birmingham to remember King’s letter and to sign a 2013 response on April 15, encouraging church leaders to keep King’s message alive in today’s struggles for justice. Much of this event is closed to the public, but participants later plan to publish their new joint letter.

A DETROIT READING OF KING’S LETTER FROM THE BIRMINGHAM JAIL: In this major Northern city where King also marched in the civil rights era, the 50th anniversary of the letter will be marked by readings from King’s letter every half hour from 10:30 a.m. through 5:30 p.m. The event is scheduled at the Hubbard Branch of the Detroit Public Library. This event is open to the public.

SPIRITUAL LETTER WRITING IN 2013: ‘LOVE AND SALT’

Love and Salt small cover by Amy Andrews and Jessica Mesman GriffithA major new memoir debuts in early 2013 called, Love & Salt: A Spiritual Friendship Shared in LettersThis inspiring collection of actual mail between two young women is fresh evidence of the power of letters to shape our lives and deepen our spiritual insights.
Coming on Monday April 15: ReadTheSpirit will publish an in-depth interview with Amy Andrews and Jessica Mesman Griffith, the two women who penned the letters found in Love & Salt.

In their book, the two women quote another great American writer, Emily Dickinson: “A letter always seemed to me like immortality.”

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an online magazine covering religion, values and cross-cultural diversity.)

 

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Categories: ChristianInterfaithNational Observances

Rosa Parks’ courage celebrated on her 100th birthday

http://www.readthespirit.com/religious-holidays-festivals/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2013/03/wpid-0204_Rebellious_LIfe_of_Mrs_Rosa_Parks.jpgCLICK THE COVER to visit the book’s Amazon page.MONDAY, FEBRUARY 4: As Americans mark the centennial of Rosa Parks, a new biography is sparking a fresh appreciation of her wisdom, courage and long decades of civil rights activism. Many popular stories about the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement” cast Mrs. Parks as an ordinary woman who touched off a bus boycott through her almost accidental moment of stubbornness after a long day of work.

“If we follow the actual Rosa Parks—see her decades of community activism before the boycott; take notice of the determination, terror and loneliness of her bus stand and her steadfast work during the year of the boycott; and see her political work continue for decades following the boycott’s end—we encounter a much different ‘Mother of the Civil Rights Movement,’” writes historian Jeanne Theoharis in The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks, published January 29.

New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow praises Theoharis’s book: “Parks, like many other Americans who over the years have angrily agitated for change in this country, had been sanitized and sugarcoated for easy consumption. … Fortunately, this book seeks to restore Parks’s wholeness, even at the risk of stirring unease.”

PBS also has posted a fascinating interview with Theoharis about the new book.

Wikipedia offers an extensive history (with lots of helpful links and archival photos) about Parks’ long life. She was born February 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, Alabama, as the daughter of a teacher and a carpenter. Her ancestry was a mix of Cherokee-Creek, African and Scots-Irish. She lept into the global spotlight on December 1, 1955, by refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger. She died in 2005 at age 92. Because of her significant role in American history, she was honored as the 31st person, the first woman and the second black person to lie in state in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol.

Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

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Categories: National Observances