Pastor honors impact of slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

By Greg Miller


The Rev. James Reddick, Jr., pastor of Brown's Chapel AME Zion Church, Elizabethton, recently spoke of the impact slain civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had on his life. King's 74th birthday will be celebrated Wednesday.
   Reddick recalls that, while he was a student at Tuskeegee University in 1951, he was a member of Gamma Epsilon, aspiring to become a member of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity.
   "It was during this time that they were planning strategies to better the relationships between blacks and whites," said Reddick.
   "Dr. Martin Luther King and his associate, Dr. Ralph David Abernathy, had invited us to Montgomery for our initiation celebration. We knew that Dr. King needed bodyguards during his presentation. We were asked at that time that, if the situation presented itself, if we would serve as his bodyguards when he spoke out against the segregation issue."
   George Brown, Robert Mungin, and Earnest Gibson were among Reddick's friends in the fraternity. "Indirectly, we were placed together in the forerunner of the bus march for the idea of the goodness of God; how all human beings are made in the image of God; that color should not matter, but only what a person believes," Reddick said.
   Although Reddick did not personally meet King, he attended several of King's speeches. Reddick recalls that King "was an enjoyable person just like you and me. He aspired for the best in life and wanted to be as human as possible in attaining that. He was very focused on what the obligations were of us as a race, to identify ourselves as who we are, to be the best," Reddick said.
   Reddick said King saw the goodness of man by choosing not to include violence in his repertoire. His method of success was similar to Jesus, who he always put at the head of his life. Even though he used other men, like Mahatma Ghandi (as examples), Jesus was always the head of his life.
   "Dr. King came up through a religious family. His father was a minister. Throughout all of his life, he was focused on religion and Jesus. He was a man of goodness," said Reddick.
   If King had not been killed at such a young age (39), Reddick believes the civil rights leader would have eventually been a presidential candidate. "His world acceptance of what was good and right was of that magnitude," Reddick said.
   King's success turned out to be his defeat because the timing was not there.
   "It takes time for people to change. Martin Luther King was moving past all of these things. He was a very popular man. He was more popular outside America than he was inside America, but he recognized that his fight was here at home where the problems really were," said Reddick.
   Martin Luther King helped people to recognize their own humanity in a way that closely paralleled Jesus' ministry.
   "The truth was so dramatically in front of you that it caused people to sort of lose control," Reddick said. Sometimes the truth can be so devastating that you want to go against it instead of for it. I think Dr. King was the type of person with the type of magnitude that let you see your inner self and check yourself out and see who you really are. A lot of times, that made people quite angry to find out who they really were," said Reddick.
   Reddick believes that our greatest enemy is the self, and King understood that truth, and his sermons focused on the need for individuals to recognize who they truly are in God.
   "If you read his sermons, you find yourself asking 'Who am I? What do I want to be? What do I have courage to be?' I think he was a man that was given this kind of gift with words that if we would listen, we would find that there is goodness in all of us."
   People tend to recall King's weaknesses instead of his strengths, Reddick said.
   "It's not so much to berate him, but they are not able to confront themselves with themselves. Dr. King was very astute in being able to use words that would bring man into focus with himself. He was ever present with the concept that you must confront who you really are."
   Reddick says his own life has been enhanced by King's life. "He strengthened me to try to become as good as I can in what I love to do, and to strive and continue to learn, no matter how old," Reddick said.
   According to Reddick, there is no completeness or perfection, but there is a need to improve and to become aware that, when the crowd is supporting you is the time to start questioning your purpose.
   If King were alive today, race relations would be at a somewhat higher level than they currently are, Reddick believes.
   "If he were alive today, we would have never had a Sept. 11 because of his ability to cause man to reach inside himself and see the goodness," Reddick said. "Dr. King had a growing faith and a faith that recognized the fact that humility is the essence of goodness."
   As Jesus humbled Himself to death on the cross, Reddick says that, regardless of how some people tried to elevate him, King maintained a high level of humility.
   "Martin Luther King maintained his humility, no matter how much they pushed him and burned him up," Reddick said. "When they gave him the Nobel Peace Prize, he started not to accept it."
   King's "true genius," Reddick said, is seen in the following words from the civil right leader's famous "I Have a Dream Speech" on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. on Aug. 28, 1963.
   King stated, "When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and 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!"