I love old books and documents; and as a government employee, I help make records available to the public, including documents with historical value.
I recently had an opportunity to touch such a historic document. The experience was amazing!
On January 17, 1964, the City and County of Denver entered into a contract with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., under which Dr. King asked to provide lectures and question-answer sessions in the Denver community.
The Denver Commission on Community Relations, whose powers and duties included developing educational campaigns devoted to “teaching the need for eliminating group prejudice, intolerance, bigotry, disorder, and discrimination”, agreed to pay Dr. King the total sum of $200.00 at the rate of $20.00 per hour for his services.
I couldn’t take my eyes off the signatures, especially that of Dr. King. The blue ink was still vivid on the page fifty-six years after Dr. King’s hand touched the page to sign it.
As I gazed at Dr. King’s signature, many things raced through my mind. I was born in July 1964. I wondered what it was like to listen to Dr. King speak in person about civil rights and equality. I tried to imagine the community meetings and lectures where he discussed his quest to eliminate prejudice, intolerance, and racial discrimination in this country.
I wondered how city and state government officials responded to his presence in Denver, especially since it was well known that some government officials were also members of the KKK in the 1920s and 30s. I thought about the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on July 2, 1964, and the Nobel Peace Prize that was awarded to Dr. King on November 11, 1964.
Returning to the present, I thought of all the things we do currently to celebrate Dr. King’s life including the Denver “Marade” which is a combination of a march and a parade where thousands of people gather on Dr. King’s holiday to remember his legacy and to continue the pursuit for peace and justice. We also pray the same prayers Dr. King offered in the hopes of opening hearts, minds, and spirits.
A few days afterward, I was in morning prayer and found myself drawn to the words in Psalm 78 where the Psalmist advises us, among other things, to stay faithful to God by teaching lessons learned from the past to the next generations. The psalm powerfully reminds us to reach out to the next generations so they will learn to place their trust and hope in God for themselves and for each other.
News reports indicate that Dr. King told the people of Denver, “The shape of our world today does not afford our nation the luxury of an anemic democracy.” He emphasized that “We made of this world a neighborhood. Now we must make of it a brotherhood. We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” He decried “the appalling silence of the good people” in the fight for better civil rights laws.
Yes, it was exciting to touch the same document that Dr. King once touched.
It was sobering to realize that today we face the same reality where the silence of good people will be the greatest tragedy of our times. There is little doubt that our world is at a point of historic social and environmental transitions. The clamor of bad actors seems to be as strident and as loud today as it was in 1964.
It is necessary to continue to learn from this country’s sorry history of prejudice, intolerance, discrimination, and injustices. We have made a world that desperately needs to hear a voice that inspires all of us to work for equality among all God’s people.
The psalm motivates us to keep reaching out, with love and respect, to the next generations in our communities so they too will work to energize anemic neighborhoods and to promote peace and justice for all people.
Keep Hope alive! Keep Faith alive! Let’s do this for ourselves, the next generations, and for God.