MLK: “The Death of Evil upon the Seashore”

Two years after Brown v. Board of Education

mlk targetedMartin Luther King, Jr. delivered the sermon “The Death of Evil upon the Seashore” on May 17, 1956, to 12,000 people. The venue was the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, the headquarters of the Episcopal Diocese of New York State.

The occasion was an ecumenical program commemorating the second anniversary of the Supreme Court school desegregation decision in Brown v. Board of Education. As the Montgomery bus boycott was still going on, this was early in this phase of the civil rights movement.

King had preached this sermon at least twice in the past, based on the biblical story of the exodus from Egypt, comparing the Israelites’ captivity with the plight of African Americans.  The scripture text was: “And Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the seashore.”-Exodus 14: 30

I try to find sermons by MLK for the holiday that are both well-regarded yet largely unfamiliar. 


There is hardly anything more obvious than the fact that evil is present in the universe. It projects its nagging, prehensile tentacles into every level of human existence. We may debate over the origin of evil, but only the person victimized with a superficial optimism will debate over its reality. Evil is with us as a stark, grim, and colossal reality…

But we need not stop with the glaring examples of the Bible to establish the reality of evil; we need only to look out into the wide arena of everyday life. We have seen evil in tragic lust and inordinate selfishness. We have seen it in high places where men are willing to sacrifice truth on the altars of their self-interest. We have seen it in imperialistic nations trampling over other nations with the iron feet of oppression. We have seen it clothed in the garments of calamitous wars which left battlefields painted with blood, filled nations with widows and orphans, and sent men home physically handicapped and psychologically wrecked. We have seen evil in all of its tragic dimensions…

[The telling of the Red Sea story in Exodus]

This story symbolizes something basic about the universe. It symbolizes something much deeper than the drowning of a few men, for no one can rejoice at the death or the defeat of a human person. This story… symbolizes the death of evil. It was the death of inhuman oppression and ungodly exploitation.


Notice how we have seen the truth of this text revealed in the contemporary struggle between good, in the form of freedom and justice, and evil, in the form of oppression and colonialism. Gradually we have seen the forces of freedom and justice emerge victoriously out of some Red Sea, only to look back and see the forces of oppression and colonialism dead upon the seashore.

[Statistical analysis of colonialism and how it was slowly breaking down.]

What we are seeing now in this struggle is the gradual victory of the forces of freedom and justice. The Red Sea has opened, and today most of these exploited masses have won their freedom from the Egypt of colonialism and are now free to move toward the promised land of economic security and cultural development. As they look back, they clearly see the evils of colonialism and imperialism dead upon the seashore.

The struggle in the United States

In our own struggle for freedom and justice in this country, we have gradually seen the death of evil. Many years ago, the Negro was thrown into the Egypt of segregation, and his great struggle has been to free himself from the crippling restrictions and paralyzing effects of this vicious system. For years it looked like he would never get out of this Egypt. The closed Red Sea always stood before him with discouraging dimensions. There were always those Pharaohs with hardened hearts who, despite the cries of many a Moses, refused to let these people go.

But one day, through a world-shaking decree by the nine justices of the Supreme Court of America and an awakened moral conscience of many White persons of goodwill, backed up by the Providence of God, the Red Sea was opened, and the forces of justice marched through to the other side. As we look back, we see segregation caught in the rushing waters of historical necessity. Evil in the form of injustice and exploitation cannot survive. There is a Red Sea in history that ultimately comes to carry the forces of goodness to victory, and that same Red Sea closes in to bring doom and destruction to the forces of evil.


This is our hope. This is the hope and conviction that all men of goodwill live by. It is… the conviction that all reality hinges on moral foundations and that the whole cosmic universe has spiritual control. It is, therefore, fitting and proper that we assemble here, just two years after the Supreme Court’s momentous decision on desegregation, and praise God for His power and the greatness of His purpose, and pray that we gain the vision and the will to be His co-workers in this struggle.

Let us not despair. Let us not lose faith in man and certainly not in God. We
must believe that a prejudiced mind can be changed and that man, by the grace of God, can be lifted from the valley of hate to the high mountain of love.

Let us remember that as we struggle against Egypt, we must have love, compassion, and understanding goodwill for those against whom we struggle, helping them to realize that as we seek to defeat the evils of Egypt, we are not seeking to defeat them but to help them, as well as ourselves…

I prefer to live by the faith that the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever,

The full text is here.

Rote memorization

87 years ago…

I’ve been musing on rote memorization. One reason is a column in the Boston Globe, The blessing of ‘rote’ memory by Jeff Jacoby. The subtitle: “Memorization for its own sake has long been unfashionable. It shouldn’t be.”

Jacoby notes: “There was a time when memorization was a standard feature of American schooling. In 1927, New York City’s board of education directed grade school teachers to teach poetry to pupils, with particular emphasis on the use of rhythm, diction, and imagery.”

Of course, “it isn’t only literature that can be memorized. The elements of the periodic table, the names and locations of the 50 states, the 46 US presidents, the first 100 digits of pi, the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, all the best picture Oscar winners — the list is literally endless…

“Everyone memorizes some things — the multiplication tables, their Social Security number, song lyrics, the Wi-Fi password, family members’ birthdays — but memorization for its own sake has long since gone out of favor.” I was not specifically aware of that trend.

Lowest form?

“Writing in The American Scholar more than 40 years ago, the late Clara Claiborne Park, a professor of English at Williams College, commented on the disdain with which professional educators dismissed learning material by heart as mere ‘rote memory.’ She quoted one college president who sneeringly called memorization ‘the lowest form of human intellectual activity.'”

Jacoby pushes back. “But there is nothing ‘low’ about mastering a block of information so effectively that you can surface it at will… You don’t have to be a ‘Jeopardy!’ contestant to relish having instant recall of thick slices of knowledge. Memorization takes work, but there is joy in the accumulation of knowledge that requires no googling.”

I’ve actually gotten pushback in this blog about this in the past. Why remember it when you can just look it up? To which I’ve indicated the joy – yes, that’s the word – of knowing stuff.

The Word

When I used to attend a Friday Night Bible Club for several years, roughly from fourth through tenth grade, Pat, the woman running it, suggested that we should try to memorize Bible verses. To this day, I still remember Psalm 119:11, in the King James Version, of course. “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.”

Memorization was also the recommendation at her church, Primitive Methodist in Johnson City, coincidentally very close to where my parents would move after I went to college. I remember one of the PM teens selected John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” It wasn’t explicitly stated, but I have long thought that this process was suggested in case the Communists took over the country and took all of our Bibles.

Music allowed me to cheat somewhat. Because I know the anthem God So Loved the World, I can cite John 3:17. “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”

A college friend of mine surprisingly got into a brief but intense Christian phase. They recommended that I memorize all of the books of the Bible, and I dutifully did so.

Now? Well, I can get through the Pentateuch, then Joshua Judges Ruth, which, not incidentally, is the title of a Lyle Lovett CD that I own. Then the twofer history books, which are in reverse alpha order: 1st and 2nd Samuel, Kings, Chronicles. The history section ends with EastNortheast; I mean Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther. Job, Psalms, Proverbs, and… a couple more. The five major prophets, then I totally fall apart over the 12 minor prophets. I’m better with the New Testament, but some of the epistles – where IS Philemon? -are a bit shaky.

Lousy memory

I did really well with math tables. I know the Social Security numbers of my wife and daughter. And I used to remember all the area codes, and the geography they represented when the codes had a zero or one in the middle. Also, I’m rather good with birthdays.

But rote memorization of words was/is tougher. I struggled with the Emancipation Proclamation, which is only two minutes long. I could never be a leading actor because I couldn’t absorb the lines. In high school, I was the Fire Chief in Eugene Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano. I couldn’t remember some soliloquy, so someone put it on a scroll, which I took out and read, then flung towards the audience.

Yet I DO know the Presidents, which helped on JEOPARDY; the order of Beatles album releases (US AND UK), and most of the MLB players who hit more than 500 home runs.

The one thing I actively tried to instill into my child’s brain was the names of the states. Not exactly in alphabetical order, but the four A states, the three C states et al.

Recently, Kelly thanked his 7th grade English teacher for forcing his class to memorize a particular poem that he learned to hate, but since…

Sometimes it works out

The G.I. Bill Restoration Act

sometimes it works outThis is one of those Day In The Life posts I’m calling Sometimes it works out. It is about April 26, 2022, which started with Wordle in 3 (HEIST).

My Bible guys have been meeting remotely since the start of the pandemic. Given the demographics – I’m the youngest of the group – I’m guessing that’s the way it’ll remain. One of the seven was traveling, one had an appointment. Another had trouble getting on ZOOM. Yet we persevere.

One of the readings was 1 Corinthians 15, which is a long chapter. Very familiar. No. 46 of Handel’s Messiah is Since by man came death, from verses 21 and 22. Then No. 47 through 51 show up in verses 51 to 57, starting with Behold, I shew you a mystery.

This led to a question, Who selected the libretto? I knew it wasn’t Handel but forgot it was Charles Jennens, “an English aristocrat who collaborated with Handel on several other oratorios.”

Lost money

While looking for my bus pass – which turned out to be in the wrong part of my wallet from its usual place – I found a stale-dated check for $18.71 on my dresser. If it had been a larger amount, I probably would have remembered to look for it. What it was doing on my dresser, as opposed to my wallet or my mail drawer, I don’t know.

The weird thing is that I can remember the amount without looking again because it is the second calendar year of the Franco-Prussian War, although the event actually lasted less than 12 months. Why I couldn’t use Mrs. O’Leary’s cow as a device… the mind does what it does.

The talk

The Friends and Foundation of the Albany Public Library have just restarted their weekly book review/book talk. A hole in the schedule developed and I volunteered to talk about The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein, which I talked about at church adult ed ZOOM a year ago.

I was going to use the 17-minute video Segregated by Design, narrated by Rothstein, but I couldn’t get the sound to work; nor could three library techies.

So I vamped a bit before abandoning the possibility of the video, and talked about The G.I. Bill Restoration Act, “recently introduced in the House of Representatives. This legislation would give financial benefits to descendants and spouses of Black veterans who fought in WWII, but were excluded from aid outlined in the original G.I. Bill.”

This led to conversations about my father, who never lived in a house of his own until 1972, and made me wonder whether he had tried to utilize the original G.I. Bill. Over a million black World War II vets were denied from using it. This led to my sharing a story of my father’s experiences in Germany. I found I  LIKED talking about my dad.

Oh, I left the book at the library, but I got it back the following week.

Social Security

I went to the Social Security office. My wife is working on financial stuff for my daughter’s college and needs how much I received from Social Security in 2020. The amount I got in automatic deposits I know, but the amount paid for Part B Medicare IDK. The 2021 breakdown is on the Social Security page, but not the year before.

After getting the info from the agent, I asked about money owed to my daughter for the three months between her 18th birthday and her high school graduation. The paperwork had been submitted in early February but rejected in March because she wasn’t in high school. Except that she WAS/IS. I had to appeal this before May 3.

The agent suggested that the agency hadn’t received the proper form from the high school, which I had put in the mail in February. But they looked on the computer for a few minutes. They said the info was indeed there but that the agency had not processed it for reasons unclear to me. I took the bus, only mildly confident that my daughter would get the payments in a timely manner.

There you go

That was a someone atypical Tuesday. Unrelated, as I wrote to someone, “If you forget things on a daily basis, you should try remembering them weakly.”

The Kyle Rittenhouse verdict

compassion, kindness

verdictI’m trying to contextualize the disappointing but unsurprising Kyle Rittenhouse verdict.

One part is Mark Evanier’s tweet. “And one day soon, someone of a different political view and/or race will do what Kyle Rittenhouse did and all the folks cheering today’s verdict will be screaming, ‘Rule of law!'”

There is a 2021 article in Slate that I found intriguing. “Black gun rights advocate Kenn Blanchard says Black Americans shouldn’t be scared of the Second Amendment.”

And of course, many African-Americans are afraid. Race DOES permeate the politics of gun control. Think of the death of Philando Castile, who announced to an officer at a traffic stop that he had a gun in his car. He ended up dead, and that continues to gut me.

I’m left to speculate what would have been the reaction by law enforcement to a young black male running through the streets of Kenosha, WI with an AR-15. Perhaps he would have ended up dead like Emantic “EJ” Fitzgerald Bradford Jr. He was a good black man with a gun trying to end an Alabama mall shooting.

But Kyle Rittenhouse, running through the chaotic streets with an automatic weapon, goes past law enforcement without incident. As a Boston Globe columnist noted: “You can be a vigilante when your mission is to serve the system.”


Much has been made of the judge’s rulings during the trial. For the most part, I concur. Yet there is one aspect that I have to agree with him. The fact that Rittenhouse had not made public comment before the trial should not have mattered. Moreover, when the prosecution suggested that this was an issue, and the judge reprimanded the state on Fifth Amendment grounds, it hurt the case. It was prosecutorial ineptness.

In this blog back in 2014, I wrote: “If I am ever in a situation that would involve the criminal justice system – whether as the victim and/or witness or defendant – I will not comment on what I might testify about until the trial is over. I won’t talk about it, and I certainly won’t blog about it.”

Very few things irritate me more while watching the news than having  Lester Holt, or whomever, saying, “X is breaking their silence.” It’s as though talking about testimony to the press before the trial is what one is SUPPOSED to do. I do not buy it.

As a practical matter, shutting up is probably better. Alec Baldwin spoke after the shooting death of the cinematographer for the movie Rust. When he talked about how well-run the set operated, he may have made himself vulnerable to civil liability.

polar bear

With God on his side

It fascinates me that the two folks on my Facebook feed who clearly supported the outcome put it in a Christian context. My old neighbor Greg says the verdict was “Absolutely beautiful totally innocent! 100% self-defense.” He bashed the “bleeding hearts”, and ends with “so good for Kyle excellent praise God.”

As someone who has been reading a lot of the Old Testament recently, there’s a lot of stories of the people of Israel preparing to invade other folks. Start with Joshua 1, for instance.

But this is not the Christian theology I believe in. I’m more of a Colossians 3:12 kind of guy. “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” That would mean, in my mind, not becoming a Stand Your Ground provocateur.

“I Can Be A Christian By Myself”

“Shut the door and I’m the people.”

christian churchIn the liturgy for the first Sunday in October, the New Testament scripture was  Ephesians 4:11-16. It begins, “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors, and teachers.” And immediately, I thought of the song I Can Be A Christian By Myself.

There are lots of scripture that suggests that the church is comprised of parts. 1 Corinthians 12 is possibly the most famous. “Now the body is not made up of one part but of many.”

I Can Be A Christian By Myself was a sarcastic take about this understanding. Someone told me about the song maybe 35 years ago. This led me to a search. I couldn’t find a recording on YouTube. But I did discover this article from 2010.

“[Richard] Avery and [Donald] Marsh have an ironic song called I Can Be a Christian By Myself. The first verse goes:”

I can be a Christian by myself.
Leave my dusty Bible on the shelf.
I’ll sing a hymn and pray a bit.
God can do the rest of it.
My heart’s the church, my head’s the steeple.
Shut the door and I’m the people.
I can be a Christian by myself.

Wait there’s more!

I’ll break some bread and drink some wine.
Have myself a holy time.

I’ll take the off’ring then I’ll know
Where that money’s gonna go.

So please remember, Lord, when I die,
Give me my own cloud in the sky.

After this life with its labors
Don’t bug me with needy neighbors.

I discovered the song appears in  The Richard Avery and Donald Marsh Songbook, c. 1972. But instead of waiting to get an interlibrary loan page, I ordered a used copy of the collection.

This article quotes the exact same parts of the song. It then notes, “In John 17, Jesus prays about giving his love and glory to his disciples and to the community or church. It is not a prayer for the individual Christian but for the community.”

This has informed my understanding of the communal/communion/community sense of faith, as opposed to the individual sense of salvation.

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