On a beautiful Autumn day here in New Jersey last week, students, politicians and civic and religious leaders were among those who gathered in Newark on October 14th, to unveil an 8 foot tall bronze statue of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Those of us who live in Essex County have a new local destination: the statue, perched in front of the Essex County Hall of Records on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The statue will be an invitation to consider the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, and an opportunity to reflect and consider his legacy.
In January 1963, Dr. King attended a service at Rabbi Prinz’s congregation, Temple B’nai Abraham in Newark, as the featured guest speaker for that evening. Deborah Prinz, Rabbi Prinz’s youngest daughter, was one of the speakers at last week’s dedication of the Dr. King statue. In her remarks, she quoted the speech Dr. King delivered to her father’s congregation. “Religion is always in danger of saying we should wait on God to act. And so you wait on God to act. Well, I subscribe to another kind of religion, a religion that says God will act, but he will only act when men act. . . A religion that says, stand on your feet and I will speak to you.”
Most of us familiar with Dr. King’s civil rights work know that, consistent with this quote, he did “stand on his feet” time and time again, as he led bus boycotts, stood in picket lines, spoke and preached to audiences around the country, and stood in peaceful protest.
Last week’s ceremony took place exactly 51 years after Dr. King was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize on October 14, 1964. This was the same year that the U.S. civil rights bill was passed and signed into law.
As I listened to the inspirational messages from last week’s speakers in Newark, with the sun shining bright, but with the awareness of waves of violence taking place around the world and the pressing issue of gun violence in our country, I was struck by Dr. King’s commitment and resolve to choose the path of peace and non-violence as a form of protest and activism.
Both Dr. King and Rabbi Prinz were lovers of their respective faiths, and this belief fostered their decision to fight for freedom and equality through love, peace and respect for all people. Their example is worth remembering today, perhaps more urgently than ever before.