By Carrol Wilson
The book of Genesis contains the story of two brothers named Cain and Abel. Cain kills his brother Abel in a fit of jealousy over an offering presented to the Lord. Cain’s problem was the fact that the Lord considered Abel’s sacrifice more favorable. After the murder, the Lord looks for Abel and asks Cain where his brother is. Cain pretends not to know the answer. “Am I my brother’s keeper?,” Cain replies. To which the Lord replies, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.”
As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death, as we remember his brutal shooting on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel, as we look at the still visible blood stains left on the concrete floor, I wonder who is left to hear King’s blood crying out.
Admittedly, I have no conscious memories of the life of Dr. King. I have a faint memory of a day in April when the sun was shining with a clear blue sky, but the world was silent.
My world, which was usually bustling with the sounds of my mom and aunts’ voices and laughter, was eerily silent. It seemed as if the world was shocked into silence with grief over Dr. King’s death. It has taken decades for me to fully realize the impact his death had on my life and the world. His death was formative to my drive and fight for the rights of others without a voice. I hear the blood of Dr. King crying out.
I hear Dr. King’s blood crying out in the tumultuous social and political climate that exists in 2018 — the climate in which police make decisions to take African-American lives without fear of repercussions or punishments; the climate that makes it fine for police to stop you and ask why you are driving in Buckhead (an upscale Atlanta neighborhood) because you are driving an older-model car (yep, this happened to me); the climate in which African-Americans fall behind our white counterparts in income disparities, no matter what your income levels are.
This means, since 1963, African-Americans have been out-earned and under-inherited seven levels lower than Caucasians. We see that Dr. King understood the impact of economic equality early on. In the months before King’s death he had begun to concentrate more on economic reforms.
I hear King’s blood crying out as we read about the incarceration rates of African-Americans versus those of other races. The rates in which prisons are built is based on test scores from second- and third-grade children. Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness sadly outlines these facts.
I also hear King’s blood crying out each day as I pray for the safety and well-being of my sons, nephews and grandsons. The reality of living each day, earnestly praying that your family member does not become another poster image for an unjust death is a reality for many African-Americans.
Martin’s dream of children not being judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character has not manifested itself over the last 50 years.
As so today, I will spend the day listening to his speeches and shedding a few tears. I will also take an honest inventory of the work that I am doing. I will be listening anew for what Dr. King’s blood is crying for me to do. I challenge you to do the same.
Carrol Wilson serves as the Chaplaincy and Pastoral Counseling Assistant, African American Network Staff Liaison and Diversity Committee Chair for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Decatur, Ga.