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Minnesota Historical Society, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Minnesota Historical Society, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Making the ‘Dream’ a reality: The legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.


Martin Luther King Jr.'s belief in a 'beloved community' — a community characterized by justice, equality, and love — was deeply rooted in his Christian faith.

As Michael Eric Dyson notes, "He saw faith as a tool for change, a constant source of inspiration to remake the world in the just and redemptive image of God."

King was mindful of the power and responsibility of the church in healing the divides of society. He was also well aware of challenges hindering churches themselves. On March 31, 1968 — only days before his assassination — the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. uttered these words in a sermon at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.: “We must face the sad fact that at eleven o’clock on Sunday morning when we stand to sing ‘In Christ there is no East or West,’ we stand in the most segregated hour of America.”1 

As United Methodists, our foundational belief in the sacred worth of all persons compels us to "work toward societies in which each person's value is recognized, maintained, and strengthened" (Social Principles, The Social Community, "Rights of Racial and Ethnic Persons," United Methodist Book of Discipline).

Acknowledging, celebrating and discussing Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy is a step forward in the pursuit of this belief. As Bishop Woodie White says in his 2017 letter to King, "Our goal... is not merely a better, more just America. We Christians strive for a more beloved community, for what we sometimes call the reign of God."

April 4, 2018, marks 50 years since his assassination in Memphis, where he had gone to support black sanitation workers striking for better working conditions. As we mark this anniversary, let us renew our resolve to continue working toward a world where "justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream" (Amos 5:24). 

Below you will find resources to help you commemorate and honor Martin Luther King Jr. in your congregation.

1Becoming an Anti-Racist Church: Journeying toward WholenessJoseph Barndt (Augsburg Fortress, 2011), p. 1.



Bishops (from left) LaTrelle Easterling, Bruce R. Ough, Hope Morgan Ward, Bob Farr and Karen Oliveto carry a United Methodist banner. Photo by Kathy L. Gilbert, UMNS

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Bishop Woodie White composes his annual letter to the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., in advance of the civil rights leader's Jan. 15 birthday. The 2009 letter, his 33rd, celebrates Barack Obama’s election as the first black American president of the United States of America. Now retired and serving as bishop-in-residence at United Methodist-related Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, White was the first top staff executive of The United Methodist Church's racial equality monitoring agency, the Commission on Religion and Race. A UMNS Video image. Photo #090022. Accompanies UMNS story #014. 1/13/09.

Bishop Woodie White’s 2017 letter to Martin Luther King Jr.

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The Lorraine Motel (now a museum) is the site where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. Photo by Adam Jones, Ph.D., Creative Commons, 2012.

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The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial in Washington was dedicated by President Obama on Oct. 16, 2011. A UMNS photo courtesy of Maile Bradfield. Accompanies UMNS story #018. 1/13/12.; A UMNS photo by Maile Bradfield

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Ronald Southall joins in the singing during worship service at First Grace United Methodist Church. A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert.; A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert

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