This morning I awoke to a strange excitement, thinking about a chair I sat in nearly a year ago that changed my life. It sits next to the phone that adorns the hallway of a white house on Jackson street in Montgomery, AL.
It was there, in that chair, that history was made when a man picked up the phone, stared fear in the face and made a decision that ultimately began a movement in America that continues to this day.
The voice on the other end was enraged, spewing hate and threats to the man in the chair. The voice said, “Nigger, we’re tired of your mess. And if you aren’t out of this town in three days, we’re going to blow up your house and blow your brains out.”
This type of call was nothing new for him after weeks of receiving threatening messages as he launched into his new role as the voice of the Montgomery bus boycott.
But this particular call was different. He couldn’t shake it as he thought of his sleeping wife in the next room and his beautiful 10 week old baby girl.
Shaken, he made himself a cup of coffee, searching for answers. He buried his face in his hands and began to pray aloud, “Lord, I’m down here trying to do what’s right…But I must confess…I’m losing my courage.”
Suddenly, he heard a voice say, “Martin Luther, stand up for truth. Stand up for justice. Stand up for righteousness.”
Immediately the fear ceased, and a new man was born.
We march and celebrate this man’s fearlessness today. He needs no introduction. He is the one and only Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Today we celebrate the legacy he left each one of us, a legacy that before this year of on the road, I knew very little about. So it is incumbent upon me that today we celebrate the beauty of his dream, and the hope that it will manifest in cities across this country, which it sadly, still has yet to do.
For me, this day marks 12 months of learning about the reality of a hierarchy of human value, and the exciting role I now get to play in devoting the rest of my life to dismantling it. This day is especially poignant for me, as we march in honor of Dr. King, to recall a very special aforementioned chair, which I had the great honor to sit in, where a major shift took place in Dr.King’s heart, and in my own.
At the invitation of our host earlier this year in Montgomery, Dr. Shirley Cherry, Director of the Dexter Avenue Parsonage Museum, I found myself sitting in the same chair Dr. King sat in when he received that infamous phone call.
The old phone from the 1960’s sat staring back at me as the sun set through the front windows, casting a lonely shadow across the glossy hardwood floors. I sat there alone in silence. I listened closely in case that house, so filled with stories that shaped a nation, might start to speak to me.
I knew it was there, where Dr. King received that midnight call, that he had to decide if fear would drive him away from his destiny, or if he would find the courage to say yes to his destiny and conquer his fear.
Sitting there, imagining what he must have felt that night, and the weight of the decision he had to make, to either continue the work he had begun, or call it quits, I felt like I heard those words running through my mind as well, to stand up for truth, to state up for justice, and to stand up for righteousness.
It is so easy to stay quiet and tow the line of the status quo, carrying the silence like a heavy weight. I know Dr. King considered, if even for a moment, being quiet, going about his business as a pastor, husband and father. I know this because even he, the voice that shaped a nation, confessed that he was losing his courage that night. He had a chance to refuse his destiny in the name of playing it safe. He knew that to be the voice he was called to be, he would have to risk not only his life, but also the life of his beloved wife and daughter.
But fear didn’t drive him, it left. And he was infused instead with hope, courage and a fresh dose of love as he faced down the ugly institutions built on that hierarchy I mentioned earlier. He began the daunting work of exposing that system for what it is…a lie based in fear. As Dr. King himself said, “A lie cannot live.”
Just days after the phone call and his divine encounter, around 9 p.m., a bomb exploded on the front steps of the King house. No one inside was hurt, though traces of the bomb are still visible to this day. Despite this, King didn’t back down. Instead he geared up and walked straight into the pages of history.
Today as we celebrate Dr. King from coast to coast, no one is talking about the threat of that bomb attack on Dr. King and his family. His legacy was not one of cowering to fear. He is remembered as victorious in love. The speeches and parades across American today honor the fearlessness of the man who wouldn’t allow those threats to block the great legacy he was destined to leave for us carry on.
So today, as we officially wrap up a year of learning, traveling, and being awakened, I want to thank Dr. King for launching our journey a year ago, and for closing our time on the road with the gentle reminder that love is the most durable power in the world.
We honor you, Dr. King, and we thank you for lending us your chair.