The March Goes On

I was standing on the corner of Trinity and Washington Streets in downtown Atlanta, Georgia when my father took my hand, as he sometimes did. This time seemed different because he was doing so, not out of affection, but rather for protection, though I didn’t know from what. A crowd had gathered around us and as they began to weep and sing his grip grew stronger and stronger on my hand until everyone moved into the street to slowly follow a mule drawn wagon carrying a casket. And the singing continued for miles…“We shall overcome, we shall overcome”.

This is one of my most vivid childhood memories, and though I was too young to really understand it at the time, my father had taken me to the funeral procession of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As we walked, pressed into the emotions of the crowd, the fear he felt for me that day was not of an entity, but rather of an attitude. The attitude that would lead one man to kill another simply because of the color of his skin. The lesson he took me there to learn was summed up in the simple, hopeful lyrics sung through the pain and tears of the marching crowd:
“We shall overcome
We shall overcome
We shall overcome someday
Oh, deep in my heart I do believe
That we shall overcome someday”
That morning and evening my mother, brother, sisters, friends and I spent hours at the inner city church my dad pastored making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the people who traveled to Atlanta to gather and mourn. But more than that, the people had come to march through their loss and pain, and to resolve that, though the man was gone, his dream would live on.

Looking back on that day, I know it would have been easier for my Father to fight through crowds on the street and feed travelers at the church without dragging along his youngest son. But he wanted me to experience for myself the emotions and turmoil of the times. He wanted me to see, hear and feel how hopelessness could be eclipsed by hope as people of faith came together to march and sing… “We Shall Overcome Someday”.

In his first letter to Timothy, Paul affectionately calls him, “My true son in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2). In his next letter to his “son”, Paul challenges Timothy to “Guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1:14). Then, a few verses later he tells Timothy that part of “guarding” is “entrusting to others of the faith” what has been entrusted to him, and that “entrusting” is teaching them to pass the same thing on to others (2 Timothy 2:2).

Paul is encouraging Timothy to walk with believers in guarding the faith no matter how difficult that walk may be, and to challenge them to pass it on to the next generation so they can march forward in faith.
My father took time during those historic events to remember to teach his children things of value, and to challenge us to live out our faith and stand up for what we believe in.

Dr. King encouraged us that, “We cannot walk alone, and as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.”

Life, itself, is a march ahead. As we walk through the crowd of pain and joy, loss and triumph of living, we must remember that we are not alone, because we have a loving Father who will hold our hand and march alongside us. We must remember to take the hand of those younger than us and step out with them into the challenges of the day; to walk with them, teach them, encourage them, and prepare them to carry on the faith. The march goes on.