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Remarks of Rev. Joseph Lowery at the funeral of Coretta S. King

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Much has been discussed and written concerning the remarks of Reverend Joseph Lowery at the funeral of Coretta Scott King. The sides in this debate stack up roughly one of three ways. One group of people feel that Dr. Lowery’s remarks were the wrong words and they were delivered at the wrong setting. Another group feels that, although the truthfulness of his words is without question, the setting in which they were delivered was inappropriate. And finally, there is a group that believes both the message and the setting were appropriate.

The gist of what Reverend Lowery said was hardly original. Much has been said in the press and in everyday conversation about the Bush administration’s flimsy rationale for going to war in Iraq. Weapons of mass destruction are yet to be found, if they ever existed. Concerning Hurricane Katrina, most Americans felt that the government ‘s response was too little too late, and that there may have been racial undercurrents to the whole relief effort and the almost biblical dispersal of New Orleans residents. It was into this controversy that Mr. Lowery and others, including former President Jimmy Carter, willingly stepped.

There is a term used in civil rights circles called "speaking truth to power." Dr. Lowery is no stranger to this concept. Truth becomes "like a fire shut up in your bones" and it has to come out. It is easy to preach to the choir when the choir consists of your family and a few friends. But when the audience becomes enlarged to, let’s say a national or even international audience, I believe that there are few among us who have the courage and commitment to speak the words that are really on our mind. By directly challenging the president almost face to face, I feel Dr. Lowery gave voice to countless, anonymous people who shared the same beliefs but did not have the pulpit from which to speak. Some say that the president was "ambushed" and that he was the better man by politely smiling and appearing to take no offense to the comments made against his administration. But it bears remembering two things: 1. The Bush administrations (Bush I and Bush II) have not been friends of the civil rights community or Black people in general, and 2. They chose to come to the service, even though the current president and his father each share a history of refusing to meet with the Congressional Black Caucus or speak at the NAACP national convention.

Sometimes deceased icons can be made to represent all things to all people. Mrs. King and her late husband are rightly considered historical figures as well as civil rights royalty. And in light of the controversy involving Reverend Lowery’s and those who say his remarks were inappropriate for a funeral, it bears remembering the funeral held for the four little girls killed in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Dr. King was noted to have said: "What murdered these four girls? The apathy and the complacency of many Negroes who will sit down on their stools and do nothing and not engage in creative protest to get rid of this evil". If Dr. King is to serve as an example of one who voiced uncomfortable truths, surely Reverend Lowery, his disciple, was speaking in he same tradition.

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