King Visit Historic Moment for Goshen College
By James Brenneman
On March 10, 1960, the Rev. Martin Luther Jr. took a break from his busy schedule of striving for equality and justice in Alabama to deliver an historic lecture at Goshen College on “The Future of Integration.”
King’s lecture was well attended by members of the campus and Goshen communities who filled the old Union auditorium.
As The Truth reported, King discussed the history of integration and called on Congress to pass a strong civil rights law to “control the effects” of racist attitudes. “Law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me,” he said.
King spoke about the “sit-down” protests against segregated restaurants that had spread to 37 cities in the South. He spoke about brutal police tactics used against student demonstrators and about his commitment to non-violence. And he spoke about a telegram he had just sent pleading for President Dwight D. Eisenhower to help end the “’reign of terror” against the students in Montgomery, Ala.
Besides calling for federal intervention, The Truth reported that King also called on religious leaders to help change attitudes on racial issues. Brotherhood, King declared, is at the heart of the Christian Gospel yet churches are a “segregated island” in America.
King also said that all persons should be free to marry whomever they wanted, but he rejected the idea that a desire for intermarriage had any bearing on the drive for civil rights. “The basic aim of the Negro is to be the white man’s brother, not his brother-in-law,” he said.
King’s historic visit remains a high point in the history of Goshen College. It inspired those who attended the lecture — and it remains an inspiration on campus and in Elkhart County for those who still embrace King’s vision and values.
On Monday, Goshen College will honor the life and work of Dr. King during the college’s 14th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Study Day. All are welcome to visit the college for a full day of activities, including theatre presentations, music, a film festival, discussions and children’s programs.
It is right and good to set aside this day to honor Dr. King. Although he was a flawed prophet, King still revealed to us the power of Good’s upside-down approach to establishing justice on earth — change through non-violence.
When King, along with a group of African-American leaders, visited Gandhi in India at the beginning of the civil rights movement in America, Gandhi inspired them by highlighting the teachings of Jesus as the best approach for securing justice for millions of poor and mostly minority peoples of America. Gandhi was certain that ultimately non-violent action would cause “the whole world” to stand thunderstruck. One day, he believed, the world would see a miracle of justice unfold before their very eyes, even though it was simply “the silent and effective working of invisible forces.”
As the world would later learn, King refused to respond to violence with violence: “To our bitter opponents we say, ‘We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you … One day we shall win our freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.’”
The non-violent struggle, in which the means and ends of justice converge, will never be easy. It is a long time in coming.
Yes, there has been progress in the struggle for racial equality. I’m old enough to remember when in my hometown in the South there were still “colored” and “white” drinking fountains, beaches and bathrooms. Those days seem like ancient history today.
Still, we have a long way to go to overcome our prejudices and to overcome our belief that a just-verdict can come only through violence and warfare.
The world still needs to hear the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. just as it still needs to hear the teachings of Jesus Christ. The world still waits for the upside-down justice of God to be revealed. That’s where people of faith come in.
In the face of injustice, will they follow Christ’s example to love even enemies? Do we believe that even though our light might be flickering that we are still truly “the light of the nations?” And do we truly believe the words of that old civil rights hymn that “We shall overcome someday?”
The verdict is still out, but at Goshen College we are striving for a more diverse campus that reflects the diversity of God’s good creation. In giving a $12.5 million grant last year to the college to establish a Center for Intercultural Teaching and Learning, the Lilly Endowment Inc. believes Goshen College will put deeds to words. We believe this unprecedented commitment will help to create the kind of deep transformation we long for — a transformation that infuses our whole institution, ourselves, and our community with Christ’s inclusive love.
It’s a transformation I believe Martin Luther King Jr. would have supported if he could visit and speak at Goshen College today.
James E. Brenneman is president of Goshen College, a four-year residential Christian liberal arts college rooted in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition.
Published: In The (Elkhart) Truth, page A5, Jan. 14, 2007
Online link to President Brenneman’s Point of View column: http://www.etruth.com/Opinion/OpinionStory.aspx?id=397859