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How long? Not long

King’s words still hold true today

YOUNGSTOWN — Natalia McRae strongly feels that if you read a speech Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered during a victorious moment nearly 56 years ago, it will quickly become apparent that his words are just as relevant today.

“Dr. King said this in 1965 at the end of the Selma-to-Montgomery march. It is still appropriate today,” McRae, an East High School senior and member of Mahoning Valley Sojourn to the Past, said.

McRae was referring to King’s “How Long, Not Long” speech that he delivered to about 25,000 people who gathered March 25, 1965, in Montgomery, Ala., at the conclusion of the famous five-day, 54-mile walk for voting rights. King’s words were intended mainly to reassure the masses that the days of brutality in the South against blacks by white people were waning.

McRae recited much of the civil rights leader’s speech as part of Sunday afternoon’s virtual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Worship Service.

Hosting the one-hour Zoom event to remember and honor King’s life and legacy was the Martin Luther King Planning Committee of the Mahoning Valley. The Rev. Kenneth L. Simon, pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church in Youngstown, served as worship leader.

King’s 1965 speech reads in part:

“Let us march on ballot boxes, march on ballot boxes until race-baiters disappear from the political arena. Let us march on ballot boxes until the salient misdeeds of bloodthirsty mobs will be transformed into the calculated good deeds of orderly citizens.

“Let us march on ballot boxes until the white supremacists of our nation tremble away in silence. Let us march on ballot boxes until we send to our city councils, state legislators and the United States Congress, men who will not fear to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with thy God.

“And so I plead with you this afternoon as we go ahead, remain committed to nonviolence. …We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience.

“I know you are asking today, ‘How long will it take?’ Somebody’s asking, ‘How long will prejudice blind the visions of men, darken their understanding and drive bright-eyed wisdom from her sacred throne?’

“How long? Not long, because no lie can live forever.

“How long? Not long, because you shall reap what you sow.

“How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

The keynote speaker was the Rev. Michael Harrison Sr., pastor of Union Baptist Church in Youngstown, who noted that more than 50 years after King’s assassination April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tenn., problems that disproportionately affect black people remain entrenched.

For example, police killed an estimated 765 citizens nationwide last year, about 28 percent of whom were black — even though blacks comprise only about 13 percent of the population, he noted.

The attack on the U.S. Capitol building Jan. 6 and the killing last May of George Floyd in Minneapolis underscore why it’s vital people recommit themselves to pursuing higher goals such as academic excellence, better community-policing efforts, refraining from doing business with banks that don’t invest in the community, achieving greater equity and opportunities, being part of political movements with a clear vision, achieving more centralized entrepreneurship and being one another’s keepers, Harrison explained.

King also had the wisdom to realize the value of reaching beyond oneself to leave a greater footprint.

“It’s not about what you do now, but what you leave later,” said Harrison, adding that a love of God was the driving force behind King’s willingness to march and be beaten and jailed while working for a more just society.

In addition, King, like most leaders, accepted that he would face fierce opposition, but he rose to the occasion, Harrison continued. The longtime pastor added he is optimistic change will soon start to take place after the last four years of trauma and pain for the nation — a time when many white nationalists “rose up like never before.”

The service also included Hebrew and Koran readings, along with a New Testament lesson read by the Rev. Tracy Dawson, pastor of Christ Centered Church in Youngstown.

Delivering the benediction was the Rev. Jim Ray of Poland, a longtime civil rights activist, who cited several of King’s six principles of nonviolence he hopes more people will adopt and follow. They include the concepts that nonviolence seeks to win friendships and defeat injustice, not people.

The musical selections were “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and “Heal the Land.”

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