They called him a “coward.”
Those who followed him, loved him, and were willing to die for Martin Luther King, Jr. They called him a coward.
The day was March 9, 1965, and King had just led over 2,000 protestors across the bridge in Selma, Alabama, on their way to Montgomery, Alabama. Hundreds were ministers from other states who’d come to support him according to the King Institute at Stanford University. More than half were white.
As King crossed the bridge, he faced state troopers, who stood ready to enforce a federal court order prohibiting the march.
King then asked his supporters to pray.
Photographs show a small group of men, both black and white, at the front of that march, along with Coretta Scott King. They’re in a circle. Most are kneeling, all eyes closed, heads bowed, one giving the prayer.
But a man in the group does not listen. His head is raised, and he stares past those around him. That man is King.
MLK understood the power of the media. He’d taken his “I have a dream” speech to the Lincoln Memorial two years earlier with massive American flags waving on either side of him.
King wanted to be known as a patriot, fighting for freedom.
So why did MLK not lower his head before God and pray with the others on March 9th?
King knew all eyes were on him. It’s unbelievable that he would ignore those kneeling on the pavement around him. And do it so publicly.
The answer is clear to me.
There are moments that come suddenly, unexpectedly. They can rock your body, kick you in the gut so hard you gasp, or still your heart in quiet revelation. They may disclose a scene no one else can see.
When that time comes, you will know. Everything around you will stand forgotten, eclipsed by that Holy moment.
What King is doing with his head raised, staring past those praying around him, is profoundly important.
He’s listening to God.
Suddenly, unmistakably, King has been called forth by the Almighty. Locked in time, you can see the voice of God caught in a photograph.
Look at it. The black and white image will take your breath away. A man stilled by an all-consuming revelation from God.
King abruptly ends his march.
He tells no one why. The History Channel claims it was strategic, to avoid violating a federal injunction. Others said he had a secret deal with the White House. But many angrily believed one searing word.
They thought him a coward.
It must have taken tremendous courage to stand down in the midst of all those people who had come to support him. It would have been far easier for MLK to go forward, to suffer beatings, arrests, and even deaths. They’d planned for that.
March 9, 1965 is known as “Turnaround Tuesday.” Within two weeks, 25,000 walked those same steps with King under federal protection, marching to the state capitol in Montgomery, Alabama.
God knew what He was doing.
Was King chosen by God? A prophet?
Many Americans still utterly disapprove of the man. They point to alleged infidelities, saying MLK should not be revered.
They are wrong; they forget David.
Israel’s King David had relations with a married woman, Bathsheba, and then had her husband Uriah killed. Yet David was not only a prophet but chosen by God to be the greatest King of Israel.
God’s strength is made perfect in weakness. 2 Corinthians 12:8
God decides who and when.
The word “prophet” isn’t in the Old Testament. It’s “NAVI.” “Prophet” is the closest translation, but a NAVI doesn’t necessarily tell the future. A NAVI is simply one chosen by God to speak for God.
There will always be NAVI, and God will always speak thru them.
Take the Rev. Father Robert Morey. On October 27, 2019, at 9:00 a.m., Morey refused Holy Communion to former Vice-President Joe Biden at Mass during a campaign stop in South Carolina. NAVI Morey made clear that Holy Communion is not for abortionists.
The Rev. Kephas Oloo, a United Methodist elder in Kenya, spoke for God in his opposition to including LGBTQ in the United Methodist Church. The NAVI said, “Africa will not walk away from Christ.”
You too may be called to speak for the Lord. Like King, Morey, and Oloo, you may be seared with criticism over the words God gives you. Take courage and know that He is with you.
Frame that image from March 9, 1965 and remember that MLK was not alone. See the Voice of God caught in a photograph.
Copyright (c) 2020 R.A. Mathews The Rev. Mathews is a faith columnist, attorney, and the author of “Reaching to God.” Write to her at [email protected]