The Silence of the Good People
When Martin Luther King, Jr., was a boy, his father took him shoe shopping. As the family waited to be helped, the shoe salesman told Martin, Sr., that they needed to move from their seats and sit in the black section of the store. Rev. King told him, “We’ll either buy shoes sitting here or we won’t buy shoes at all.” As they left the store without new shoes, Rev. King told young Martin, “I don’t care how long I have to live with this system, I will never accept it.”
One could argue that a disagreement over where to sit in a shoe store was trivial. But it mattered to the elder King. From that example and others like it, Martin Luther King, Jr., learned a principle that guided his life and changed ours.
That lesson came full circle as Martin, Jr., grew older and faced his own decisions about how to respond to “the system.” Martin and his wife, Coretta, moved to Montgomery for him to pastor a church and finish writing his doctoral dissertation. When they had been there for one year, Rosa Parks got on to a public bus, found a seat near the front, and then refused to give up her seat to a white man when the bus filled up. With that simple act, the Montgomery Bus Boycott began and thrust the civil rights movement in Montgomery into full force.
Martin had not come to Montgomery to stir up political controversy. He really preferred to stay out of it! But he could not ignore what was happening around him nor deny the opportunity to impact his society in that moment. He found the courage to help change the system his father could never accept.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter,” he said. Today, African-Americans have the right to vote and other basic civil liberties because King and other leaders refused to remain silent.
On the other hand, King later reflected, “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”
As we remember the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., this weekend, may we find the courage to challenge the systems of oppression and injustice in our own society, refusing to simply accept them. May God grant us the strength to fight the fear that keeps us silent.