On Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the United States, I always reflect on the 9+ years I spent as a reporter in Tupelo, Mississippi, beginning in 1976. I covered just about everything, which means I covered civil rights, the Ku Klux Klan and local government’s response to protests.
Life in Mississippi was an example of intentional living because I felt that everything I did mattered: going to an integrated church (the only one in the city), having African-American friends and speaking against racism.
I had hope for Mississippi when I left. The people – white and black – were the most polite and hospitable I had ever met. Because there was so little to do, we gathered in each other’s houses and talked. An African-American young man was named Homecoming King at Tupelo High School.
Tupelo was a more progressive city than most in Mississippi. I spent most of my reporting time in the surrounding rural region that had the misfortune to be both Appalachian and Mississippian. The poverty was atrocious and generational. The ignorance was often profound.
Yet I was disappointed to read the book “Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta” by Richard Grant, an Englishman who moved to rural Mississippi. At least in the Delta, so little has changed and much has gotten worse for African Americans. I don’t think the intent of the book was to make one depressed, but it certainly did it for me.
The election of Barack Obama gave me hope. But, as the law goes, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. On this Martin Luther King Day, I continue to pray that our nation may break free of its chains of racism:
Lord, our God, see how oppression and violence are our sad inheritance, one generation to the next. We look for you where the lowly are raised up, where the mighty are brought down. We find you there in your servants, and we give you thanks this day for your preacher and witness, Martin Luther King Jr. Fill us with your spirit: where our human community is divided by racism, torn by repression, saddened by fear and ignorance, may we give ourselves to your work of healing.
Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen
From “Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers” (which I still use even though I am no longer Catholic)