A Message for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday

As we approach the holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I urge you to read his “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” He penned this moving appeal, including the powerful phrase “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” under frightful conditions, drawing heavily on his faith for comfort. The letter, addressed to eight white religious leaders who had urged him to exercise restraint, reminds us of his faith in a higher power – one, that he believed, would help bend the long arc of the moral universe towards justice. But it is a mistake to think that the arc bends on its own and King reminds us that human progress “never rolls in on wheels of inevitability” – it comes through tireless efforts.

We are also reminded that even though King and these men of faith worshipped the same god, they arrived at completely different conclusions about how we should live in this world. Seven of these eight men practiced the same faith tradition, Christianity, that sustained King, a faith tradition that in the 19th century, justified slavery. Ministers in the pulpits of the past quoted scripture that gave credence to a caste system that fostered inequality, intolerance, and cruelty beyond belief.

Many of those words of faith now reside in our libraries, and I am reminded that institutions like ours can provide the crucial context for examining our past, for uncovering our errors, and for helping others not to repeat these mistakes. Since institutions are only as good as their people, I am grateful for our many members who work toward a just world. It is my hope that Dr. King’s words, drawn from his abiding faith, will remind us that we are all “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality” and that the “radiant stars of love” of which he wrote, will light our paths as we strive for that just world.

– Jay Malone, ACRL Executive Director