By Walter Hoye II
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered this sermon at the funeral of the little girls who were killed on 15 September 1963 by a bomb as they attended the Sunday school of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.1
This afternoon we gather in the quiet of this sanctuary to pay our last tribute of respect to these beautiful children of God. They entered the stage of history just a few years ago, and in the brief years that they were privileged to act on this mortal stage, they played their parts exceedingly well. Now the curtain falls; they move through the exit; the drama of their earthly life comes to a close. They are now committed back to that eternity from which they came.
These children unoffending, innocent, and beautiful were the victims of one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity. Yet they died nobly. They are the martyred heroines of a holy crusade for freedom and human dignity.
And so this afternoon in a real sense they have something to say to each of us in their death. They have something to say to every minister of the gospel who has remained silent behind the safe security of stained-glass windows. They have something to say to every politician [Audience:] (Yeah) who has fed his constituents with the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism. They have something to say to a federal government that has compromised with the undemocratic practices of southern Dixiecrats (Yeah) and the blatant hypocrisy of right-wing northern Republicans. (Speak) They have something to say to every Negro (Yeah) who has passively accepted the evil system of segregation and who has stood on the sidelines in a mighty struggle for justice. They say to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution. (Mmm) They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American dream.
And so my friends, they did not die in vain. (Yeah) God still has a way of wringing good out of evil. (Oh yes) And history has proven over and over again that unmerited suffering is redemptive. The innocent blood of these little girls may well serve as a redemptive force (Yeah) that will bring new light to this dark city. (Yeah. Mmm) The holy Scripture says, “A little child shall lead them.” (Well)The death of these little children may lead our whole Southland (Well) from the low road of man’s inhumanity to man to the high road of peace and brotherhood. (Yeah) These tragic deaths may lead our nation to substitute an aristocracy of character for an aristocracy of color. The spilled blood of these innocent girls may cause the whole citizenry of Birmingham (Yeah) to transform the negative extremes of a dark past into the positive extremes of a bright future. (Mmm) Indeed, this tragic event may cause the white South to come to terms with its conscience. (Yeah)
And so I stand here to say this afternoon to all assembled here that in spite of the darkness of this hour, (Well) we must not despair. (Well) We must not become bitter, (Yeah. That’s right) nor must we harbor the desire to retaliate with violence. (Mmm) No, we must not lose faith in our white brothers. (Yeah) Somehow we must believe that the most misguided among them can learn to respect the dignity and the worth of all human personality.
May I now say a word to you, the members of the bereaved families? It is almost impossible to say anything that can console you at this difficult hour and remove the deep clouds of disappointment which are floating in your mental skies. But I hope you can find a little consolation from the universality of this experience. Death comes to every individual. There is an amazing democracy about death. It is not aristocracy for some of the people, but a democracy for all of the people. Kings die and beggars die; rich men and poor men die; old people die and young people die. Death comes to the innocent and it comes to the guilty. Death is the irreducible common denominator of all men.
I hope you can find some consolation from Christianity’s affirmation that death is not the end. Death is not a period that ends the great sentence of life, but a comma that punctuates it to more lofty significance. Death is not a blind alley that leads the human race into a state of nothingness, but an open door which leads man into life eternal. Let this daring faith, this great invincible surmise, be your sustaining power during these trying days.
Now I say to you in conclusion, life is hard, at times as hard as crucible steel. (Mmm) It has its bleak and difficult moments. Like the ever-flowing waters of the river, life has its moments of drought and its moments of flood. (Yeah) Like the ever-changing cycle of the seasons, life has the soothing warmth of its summers and the piercing chill of its winters. (Yeah) But if one will hold on, he will discover that God walks with him, (Yeah. Well) and that God is able (Yeah) to lift you from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope and transform dark and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of inner peace. (Mmm)
And so today, you do not walk alone. You gave to this world wonderful children. (Mmm) They didn’t live long lives, but they lived meaningful lives. (Well) Their lives were distressingly small in quantity, but glowingly large in quality. (Yeah) And no greater tribute can be paid to you as parents, and no greater epitaph can come to them as children, than where they died and what they were doing when they died. (Yeah) They did not die in the dives and dens of Birmingham, (Well) nor did they die discussing and listening to filthy jokes. (Yeah) They died between the sacred walls of the church of God (Yeah) and they were discussing the eternal meaning (Yes) of love. This stands out as a beautiful, beautiful thing for all generations. (Yes) Shakespeare had Horatio to say some beautiful words as he stood over the dead body of Hamlet. And today, as I stand over the remains of these beautiful, darling girls, I paraphrase the words of Shakespeare (Well): Good night, sweet princesses. (Mmm) Good night, those who symbolize a new day. (Yeah) And may the flight of angels (That’s right) take thee to thy eternal rest. God bless you. (emphasis added)
As I Think About Martyred Children
I think about the bloodshed from all the lives lost to the incontestable evil of abortion. I think about the mothers who have been lied to regarding the veracity of birth control and the viability of the child in their womb. I think about the women who have been exploited by a rabid abortion industry that profits financially from performing legal abortions, abandoned by the father of their child, their immediate family, their church family, close friends and in some cases, even their job. I think about the debt of love2 the Body of Christ owes to every woman and every child victimized by the ferocious fratricide of false hope that abortion advocates proclaim. And while I find comfort for the present and strength for the future in Dr. King’s “Eulogy for the Martyred Children,” I come to the incontrovertible conclusion that we can no longer wait for polls, political equity and/or proper funding. We must work together to end abortion now. Will you help me?
Brothers, we really need to talk.
1. Martin Luther King Online, Your “One Stop source” for MLK on the Net. “Eulogy for the Martyred Children”, September 18, 1963. Birmingham, Alabama (http://bit.ly/kCg7Lq).
2. Romans 13:8 (GodsWord), “Pay your debts as they come due. However, one debt you can never finish paying is the debt of love that you owe each other. The one who loves another person has fulfilled Moses’ Teachings.”
Walter B. Hoye II is both president and founder of the Issues4life and the California Civil Rights Foundation. God used the premature birth (six months, 2.1 pounds) of his son to teach him that the fetus is a person—a living, breathing human being. In 2008, Walter and his wife, Lori, were the recipients of the 4th Annual Walk for Life West Coast’s St. Gianna Molla Award for “courage under fire” in the pro-life movement. He serves as an incredible leader for the cause of the preborn despite the personal costs, and has even been unjustly jailed for his peaceful defense of the preborn on a sidewalk outside an abortion clinic. His “Letter from the Santa Rita Jail” and California Human Rights Amendment appeal for personhood entitled “Why I Can’t Wait” are now classics. Hoye has also written a book entitled, Leadership from the Inside Out.
This has been reprinted with permission and can be found at http://www.issues4life.org/blast/2011171.html.