Each year, United Methodist Bishop Woodie White, writes a letter to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., recapping significant developments in race relations and civil rights. Though White and King never became personal friends, the bishop says he has built a friendship with the late civil rights leader through words and ideas.
“Hehad … a concern about big issues, but he was equally concerned about what happened to women and to children,” says Dorothy Height, president of the National Council of Negro Women. She met King when he was a gifted, 15-year-old student at Morehouse College. “He had a capacity to bring one into a bigger orbit than you ever dreamed.” King’s orbit included United Methodist leaders like Height, as well as bishops, pastors and civil rights activists. For those who knew him personally, walking with King was an act of courage and a test of faith.
In 1986, President Ronald Reagan officially declared the third Monday in January an American holiday, to celebrate the birth and life of Martin Luther King Jr. For twenty years, United Methodist Bishop Woodie White has marked the date in his own personal way by writing King a letter. Each message highlights the achievements of black Americans. "I was attempting to give myself a sense of encouragement...hoping those who read the letter might be encouraged," recalls White. Hear or read White's 2004 letter, and see a UMNS video feature about his reflections on King.
“I’d say every last one of us, whether we know it or not, we’re walking in his footsteps,” says Leon Franklin, a seminary student at Gammon Theological Seminary in Atlanta. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. has been gone for 36 years, but his words and actions still inspire today’s young people. Franklin and Stephanie Clark, a 16-year-old high school student in Nashville, Tenn., talk about the impact King has on their lives.