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As we enter 2019, Americans should look past how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life ended with his April 4, 1968 assassination in Memphis Tennessee.

I recently was part of a two-person panel that discussed the PBS film, “Black America since MLK: And Still I Rise—Part 1.” We sought to assess the current state of American race relations and what is still to be achieved. It is perhaps now more important to examine and consider the circumstances in our country that pushed Dr. King to become the leader of the American Civil Rights Movement.

Following the early December 1955 arrest of Rosa Parks for failure to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus, Dr. King led the Montgomery Improvement Association boycott of the city’s bus line. Near the end of the yearlong Montgomery Bus Boycott (Dec. 5, 1955 to Dec. 20, 1956) Dr. King delivered the sermon “Paul’s Letter to American Christians” as a reflection and indictment of the state of American society and its culture.

From his pulpit at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery on Nov. 4, 1956, Dr. King spoke these words:

“[America,] You have made tremendous strides in the area of scientific and technological development. But America, as I look at you from afar, I wonder whether your moral and spiritual progress has been commensurate with your scientific progress. It seems to me that your moral progress lags behind your scientific progress. Your poet Thoreau used to talk about “improved means to an unimproved end.” How often this is true. You have allowed the material means by which you live to outdistance the spiritual ends for which you live. You have allowed your mentality to outrun your morality. You have allowed your civilization to outdistance your culture. Through your scientific genius you have made of the world a neighborhood, but through your moral and spiritual genius you have failed to make of it a brotherhood. So America, I would urge you to keep your moral advances abreast with your scientific advances….

“As you press on for justice, be sure to move with dignity and discipline, using only the weapon of love. Let no man pull you so low as to hate him. Always avoid violence. If you succumb to the temptation of using violence in your struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and your chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos.

“In your struggle for justice, let your oppressor know that you are not attempting to defeat or humiliate him, or even to pay him back for injustices that he has heaped upon you. Let him know that you are merely seeking justice for him as well as yourself.”

Over the course of the past month you may have seen notices of the Jan. 20 event in Carlisle with the theme, “Rev. Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. Day of Service: “Remember! Celebrate! Act! Uniting to strengthen our single garment of destiny.” Carlisle community members and organizations will have the opportunity to gather and demonstrate support for those ideals, which are rooted in American values. Our commemoration committee invites you to be part of this celebration within our community.

This year, our Carlisle community continues America’s quest to embrace Dr. King’s commitment to service to others and we celebrate its 30th year commemoration of his birthday. We will gather Jan. 20 for a short march in downtown Carlisle from St. John’s Episcopal Church to the Old Courthouse for a civic program there followed by an ecumenical service at St. John’s Episcopal Church.

You can track the work of your community-based committee on Facebook by following: https://buff.ly/2sykF2Y

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Retired Army Col. Charles D. Allen is a professor of leadership and cultural studies at the Army War College.

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