Written by Gradye Parsons
Each month the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Moderator or Vice Moderator of the 220th General Assembly write a column of general interest for the church-at-large.
August 28 marks the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. A young, 34-year-old Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. set aside his prepared notes to declare “I have a dream.” That dream seems to have been realized in part—but not anywhere near the whole—as events this summer have shown us.
Memories of other long-ago summers bring to mind my son and his best friend in high school, who played in the band and did many teenage things together. Even before cell phones were prevalent, they could always easily both be found either in our house or his. I never really thought about his life as an African American being any different than my son’s.
On one memorable day , family and friends had gathered at the local hospital where my wife was having surgery. Because the waiting area was in the atrium, people were there for all kinds of reasons. I watched my son and his friend walk across the atrium toward us. Then I noticed it. The looks that his friend received ranged from mere curiosity to outright hostility. I understood at that moment that my son’s friend traveled through life in a very different way than my son did.
After the speech by Dr. King and others had ended, President Kennedy hosted the march leaders at the White House. Later Kennedy reaffirmed his commitment to “translating civil rights from principles into practices.” That translating still needs to happen. It needs to happen in the church and in every aspect of our lives. The work is not done.
Sam Cooke wrote the song “A Change Is Gonna Come” a few months before the March on Washington. It became an anthem of the civil rights movement. The song tells the story of daily rejection, violence, and the weariness of living in a world of racism. The refrain is, “But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will”:
Oh there been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long
But now I think I’m able to carry on
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will.
I am praying that it will come soon.