Martin Luther King Colleague Recalls Struggle
January 22, 2008
By Dennis Ryan
FORT MYER, Va. (Army News Service, Jan. 22, 2008) -- Martin Luther King borrowed basic principles from three main sources: Jesus, Gandhi and Thomas Jefferson, according to a minister and politician who worked closely with the civil rights leader.
Walter Fauntroy, pastor of the New Bethel Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., and 20-year member of Congress, delivered this year's keynote address to the Army Test and Evaluation Command's Martin Luther King observance Wednesday in Alexandria, Va.
Fauntroy, in his role as director of the Washington Bureau of SCLC, worked as the Washington coordinator of the 1963 March on Washington, directed the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights march and the Meredith (Miss.) Freedom March in 1966.
Fauntroy is part sermonizer, part comic, a bit of a philosopher and a showman with voice that might do well in musical theater.
He called King a spiritual and political genius who understood people needed five basic things to achieve a decent quality of life: a decent income, access to education, health care, housing and justice. The reverend told how King took basic moral principles from Jesus, Gandhi and the American founding fathers -- personified in the writings of Thomas Jefferson.
''He was a singularly important man with an important message for the most violent century in history," Fauntroy said of King. ''I knew Dr. King. He understood religion is about a unifying system of values that gives meaning and purpose to life. If you don't have a system of values you are certifiably crazy."
The pastor repeatedly stressed, sometimes humorously, the need to balance the theological precepts of loving thy neighbor with practical common sense.
''If my neighbor doesn't have income, guess whose income he's coming for'" he said. ''If my neighbor doesn't have a house in winter, guess whose house he will break into'"
The search for justice ultimately is tied to economics, the minister said. He said King understood justice was related to the vote because voters ultimately get to decide where the money goes.
King knew the protestors had the right to peaceably assemble and petition for the redress of grievances under the first amendment, Fauntroy said.
Film of the Birmingham police beatings and using dogs on the protestors changed public opinion.
Such visuals seared the public consciousness, and the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed, and Fauntroy said, ''The wisdom of the founding fathers had come to pass."
The pastor closed his talk by singing a stirring and at times pointed rendition of ''The Impossible Dream."
(Dennis Ryan writes for the Pentagram newspaper at Fort Myer, Va.)