Editor’s note: Each year, retired United Methodist Bishop Woodie W. White writes a “birthday letter” to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. about the progress of racial equality in the United States. White, now bishop-in-residence at Emory University in Atlanta, was the first chief executive of the General Commission on Religion and Race. 

Photo Credit: A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

January 2014

Dear Martin: 

I write this year with mixed emotions. I am mostly saddened by the number of public acts of racial bigotry in the United States and a seeming numbing of racial sensitivity and commitment to continue a journey toward equal justice for all. I have been utterly disappointed by political efforts to disenfranchise African-American voters and others by many state legislatures and the lack of outrage by the citizenry in general and the media in particular. Further, Martin, there is the emergence of what author Michelle Alexander calls The New Jim Crow. (I call it the last plantation in America.) Her book reveals the consequences of what she describes as “mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness.” It is a growing national shame, largely ignored!

These and other events mar our landscape of racial progress and promise. They have pushed me from my usual hope and optimism to unusual discouragement.

Then came two deaths. The first was that of Mrs. Evelyn Gibson Lowery, the wife of our dear friend, the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery. Her sudden death caught us all off guard. One moment, she was laughing and making plans to celebrate Joe’s 92nd birthday. The next saw her helpless as the result of a massive stroke from which she would not recover. Her death has left me with a heavy and broken heart.

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