Why is it so hard for some people to see the continuity between the Civil Rights and Pro-Life movements?
Our nation again approaches the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday, and I will again be with Dr. King’s family on that day.
Many people understand the connection between the civil rights movement and the pro-life movement thanks to the work of Dr. Alveda King, the niece of Martin Luther King, Jr. Her father, Rev. A.D. Williams King, was Martin’s brother. She began working with me fulltime at Priests for Life as our Director of African-American Outreach in 2004.
She and I have been together with her family at many events both happy and sad, including the annual observances of the national Martin Luther King Jr. holiday at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, and the 50th anniversary celebration of the "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. On these occasions, we have been privileged to enjoy some of the most soaring oratory of our day, and some of the most articulate speeches about civil rights, justice, equality and freedom that one can ever hear. Time and time again, I have been energized and inspired by these speeches, and moved to recommit myself to the pursuit of justice and equality for every human being.
But therein also comes the pain and a glaring disconnect. The deepest human emotion and commitment to justice is evoked as speaker after speaker decries violence in the streets, senseless shootings, vast numbers of young people in prison, social inequities and economic injustices, and the horrors of war — to mention a few. But what is never mentioned is the violence of abortion, and the need to secure justice and equality for the child in the womb. Alveda and I have both felt the disconnect so intensely at these gatherings that, amidst the loud applause, we sometimes say out loud, "And the children too! Don’t forget the children in the womb!" We were indeed gratified when, on a single occasion (the MLK Holiday observance at Ebenezer in January of 2013), the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, in his keynote address, mentioned the need to protect all life, including the womb.
That is the kind of consistency that then gives credibility to the cry for justice and equality in all the other contexts that are mentioned.
At that recent 50th anniversary celebration, we heard the assertions, "There are still too many lives taken by violence… I dream of a world that does not hold anyone back…We can’t move ahead while some people are falling behind…We must protect the most fundamental rights we have…" No reference was made to the right to life of the youngest children.
And hence the pro-life movement declares today, "There are indeed too many lives taken by the violence of abortion… We dream of the world that does not hold the unborn back…We can’t move ahead while children in the womb are falling behind…We must protect the most fundamental right we have, the right to life."
On Christmas of 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. preached the following words: "The next thing we must be concerned about if we are to have peace on earth and good will toward men is the nonviolent affirmation of the sacredness of all human life. Every man is somebody because he is a child of God…Man is more than …whirling electrons or a wisp of smoke …. Man is a child of God, made in His image, and therefore must be respected as such….And when we truly believe in the sacredness of human personality, we won’t exploit people, we won’t trample over people with the iron feet of oppression, we won’t kill anybody."