By ARCHBISHOP WILTON D. GREGORY | Published January 23, 2014
Dr. King’s Memorial Celebration this year occurs as an appropriate completion of the 50th anniversary observance of his most illustrious speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The words of that spellbinding sermon have been quoted numerous times during the intervening years. Of those who today cite this speech, none brings the undeniable chill to our hearts more than the children who often quote those renowned phrases during youthful pageants. When children recite a reference from that famous speech, they bring those words into the present and then apply them to the future of this nation.
Dr. King’s words inspired not simply those who lived 50 years ago, but those who are alive today and whose lives will help to shape tomorrow.
At our annual King Commemorative Mass last Saturday, our children played some of the leading roles. They sang and danced and took prominent parts in the Eucharist, which drew attention to the cruel deaths of the four young girls who were slaughtered in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., in September 1963. None of the children who participated at our Mass this year were alive in 1963, and perhaps many of their parents were not even born then either.
This sad event is simply history for so many people today, yet the awareness of that moment was rekindled for all of us by our children who focused our attention on that tragic act and on the impact that it had for the Civil Rights Movement.
Then there was the always wonderful ceremony of our children at the Sunday afternoon event at St. Peter Claver Regional School that was once again highlighted by the youngsters from St. Thomas More School who were joined by our kids from St. Jude, St. Peter Claver, St. John the Evangelist, and Our Lady of Mercy High School. As our children sang, directed the program, recited their essays and proudly displayed their artwork, they reminded us of how far we have come in pursuit of Dr. King’s dream and yet how far we still have to go to bring it to fulfillment.
The parents (and grandparents) who attended represented the largest audience in the history of this event. This annual presentation has quickly become a moment of pride for them to witness their children interacting with each other and reminding us all of what a source of joy it is for the next generation to assume leadership in our society’s healing and bright future.
The four young girls whose lives were taken 50 years ago never had the opportunity to participate in such an interracial program, but their deaths hastened that chance for our own children.
Some young men from Marist School who were in attendance at Sunday’s program told me about a project that is now quickly emerging to plant daffodils at each of our schools to stand as a visible reminder of the lives of those who died during the Civil Rights Movement. In truth, our kids themselves are the brightest flowers that have blossomed as the harvest of justice and peace for which Dr. King and so many others gave their lives. Moreover, our children already seem to have become a perennial yield of which we can all be quite proud.