Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. graduated from Boston University School of Theology with his Ph.D. in 1955. About nine years later, I started attending Boston University School of Theology to get a Master of Divinity degree so I could serve as a pastor.
In March, 1965, Dr. King started a voting rights drive with a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama to call attention to the fact that African American citizens in Alabama were denied the right to register and vote in that state. The march was turned back by Alabama State Troopers with tear gas and beatings.
Dr. King went to Washington DC to ask President Johnson to provide federal troops to protect the marchers for a future march. Dr. King invited ministers, priests, rabbis, and lay people to come to Selma and march daily to the Courthouse to protest the fact that blacks could not register and vote in that community.
Rev. James Reeb, a Unitarian Minister from Boston, went to Selma to participate in these marches. As Rev. Reeb came out of a cafe, suspected KKK members hit him in the head with a club causing his death. Many marchers left Selma out of fear the same thing might happen to them.
Dr. King then called the Boston University Seminary and asked for seminary students to come to Selma to march in support of the local African Americans who wanted to register and vote. I joined a group of 22 Seminarians, went to Selma and participated in these marches.
We were told that there would be no protection for us when we marched and we had to be non-violent. If a person hit us we could not hit them back and if someone was beaten we should jump on top of that marcher so everyone would get some beatings but no one would be beaten to death.
We marched to the Courthouse each day for a week and an African American citizen would try to register to vote and be turned away. Black ministers would then pray on the steps of the Courthouse for those shouting ugly words at us that God would change their “hearts of hate to hearts of love.” These pastors taught us how to “love our enemies and pray for those who were against us” as Jesus commanded.
It was a powerful, life shaping experience for me and had a profound impact on my life. I have been invited to lead a group of interested people on a Civil Rights tour in March, 2015 which will be the 50th anniversary of the Selma march.
Dr. Martin Luther King was a Baptist Minister who helped to shape my life and ministry for full inclusion so all persons might experience the unconditional love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus.
For more information on a Civil Rights Pilgrimage download: