Don Erickson remembers
As I write it is the 52nd anniversary of the death of Rev Dr Martin Luther
King Jr. He was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee on 4 April 1968.
The day before he was shot, King preached what turned out to be his
final sermon. It was a haunting mixture of premonition and confidence:
“I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we as
a people will get to the promised land. So I’m happy tonight. I’m not
worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. For ‘Mine eyes have
seen the glory of the coming of the Lord’.” He sensed the darkness
looming. Tomorrow begins Holy Week when the death of our Lord is to
our special remembrance. Jesus knew what was before Him and he
sought to prepare his disciples.
I was studying in the US in1961-63. JFK was President and the Civil
Rights Movement was active. Martin Luther King came to preach at
Princeton Chapel, the student body gathered and I was among them.
He was an impressive orator. I remember he used the story of Rip Van
Winkle, a man who went to sleep in British Colonial America and woke
20 years later in Republican United States, to illustrate his theme that
America is sleeping through a revolution. The changes to come were
radial enough in that community to be called a revolution. At the close of
the service, students surrounded Dr. King and I joined them and shook
his hand saying that I was from Australia and “God bless your ministry
Dr. King.” He said “Thank you.” That was the limit of my conversation
with a great man but what a privilege it was.
In the summer of 1963 I worked in Arkansas in the Ozark Area Mission
based in the College of the Ozarks in the north-west of the state. It was
a summer programme of college students and one job I had was to run
Vacation Bible Schools south of Little Rock in black churches. I saw first
hand segregation and discrimination. The white Presbyterian Churches
and the black Presbyterian Churches were of different denominations
then still separated from the Civil War.
When the news of Dr. King’s death came to Canberra I was a young
Presbyterian minister and Chairman of the ACT Churches Council. I
contacted Rev Fred McMaster of the Kingston Baptist Church to ar-
range a memorial service there. It fell to me to lead the service and the
prayers and the preaching was by Rev. Rex Mathias of the National Me-
morial Methodist Church and a man from ANU who had worked in the
Southern Christian Leadership Conference with M.L. King.
This 4 th April date and remembrance is special to me.
- Don Erickson, 4/4/20
St Margaret’s News