Today is the 43rd anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Today I heard a part of a friend’s story I hadn’t heard before, one that reminded me both of how much MLK’s dream has come true and how much more of it we have yet to fulfill in 2011. My friend recalled that he attended a Catholic church in his youth in St. Mary’s county, MD in which blacks were seated at the back of the church and had segregated weekend activities from white parishioners. I was curious about the time period – 1950? “No”, he said, “the early 1970′s.” Yet today, we sat in a non-segregated (non-Catholic) church hall sharing stories of our common religious upbringing and the reasons why each of us had grown away from it. Our journies back to a spiritual life took very different paths, but neither of us returned to the church of our youth, the church of our parents.
Of course, the racism in the churches in the 20th century was a reflection of the racism in our culture, our government and our laws during most of our lives. My friend and I both realized the role that racial segregation and the dismissal of women drove each of us from organized religion. Yet we needed a Power greater than ourselves to survive, live, thrive. We had to find a Power greater than any organized religion and find a way within our hearts not to dismiss the valuable gifts in religions and religious people along our paths.
I continue to be shocked by the horrors of segregation, even though my own experience of it was also complete. So complete that I never saw a black person in my Catholic parish. Did black Catholics in Kansas City have their own parishes? Where? Were there also segregated churches there as late at the 70′s? Most likely.
I must continue to plumb the depths of my own experience in my writing and encourage my black friends to write, to share their stories, to pass down our heritage of both suffering and transformation, to keep MLK’s dream alive in our own lives.