Bishop Woodie W. White continues the twenty-nine year tradition of writing a birthday letter to his late colleague, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to inform him of the progress of the civil rights and spirituality movement in America. Americans celebrate and honor the late Rev. Kings memory on the third Monday of every January.
Bishop "Woodie" as he is known, was the first top staff executive of the denominations racial equality monitoring agency, the Commission on Religion and Race. Currently, he currently serves as bishop-in-residence at United Methodist-related Candler School of Theology.
He begins his letter by touching upon the discontinuance of the Central Jurisdiction, which was the racially segregated organization within the church that was created in 1939 after the Jim Crow laws. This negatively imbibed structure was discontinued after the new denomination, the United Methodist Church, was organized.
On April 23, 1968, The United Methodist Church was created when Bishop Reuben H. Mueller, representing The Evangelical United Brethren Church, and Bishop Lloyd C. Wicke of The Methodist Church joined hands at the constituting General Conference in Dallas, Texas. This was a step towards the right direction for King, who single-handed changed the segregation of blacks and whites in this "one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all" (the pledge of allegiance that American schoolchildren chant each morning). With King's sacrifices, this nation has improved drastically towards becoming 'one nation.'
Bishop Woodie was not afraid to share with King his grief and sadness over King's "beloved" Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which apparently King was very much involved in. "You would be disappointed to witness the internal conflict, distracting it from its important work of continuing the fight for equality for all," the Bishop wrote.
The Bishop hopes that new leadership will infuse the Conference with much needed vitality because the organization is needed. This is because, "No group is as revered and influential as is the black church and its clergy leadership. When focused and corporately energized, it can impact the black community in ways that outside social agencies and government cannot. We still need the corporate voice of black churches and its clergy leadership," the letter stated affirmatively.
In addition, the Bishop touched upon the national election, which, though divisive on the spiritual front, was a success for the African-American on-going fight for equality. Illionois elected a "new black senator," Senator Barack Obama. It was historically significant that both candidates competing for the open seat were African-American.
The Congressional Black Caucus is at an all-time high with 44 members, including a United Methodist pastor, the Rev. Emmanuel Cleaver, who is also a former Southern Christian Leadership Conference leader. Justice James Graves was elected to the court, Gwen Moore became the first African-American elected to Congress from Wisconsin, and Condoleezza Rice, an African-American woman served as Secretary of State.
In an exceptionally moving paragraph, he wrote, "Our struggle for freedom and equality was with hope and expectation that all Americans could express their conscience, utilize their gifts and be recognized as you well put it, not on the basis of their color but the content of their character. I celebrate whenever a person of color walks through a door previously perceived or labeled as White Only!" God also desires unity.
In addition, he lets "Martin" know of a new development in this era for black freedom. Bill Crosby, a famous television persona known for comedy, has begun to challenge parents, black leaders and ordinary citizens to a higher standard of ethical and civil behavior and responsibility. Woodie writes, that "It is a critically important matter too long limited to discussions in beauty parlors, barbershops and living rooms in the black community."
"Now perhaps community conversations can take place, bringing together the diverse perspectives and leadership that will result in a healthier, more constructive and productive community."
It is clear that progress has been made, even in this one year of 2004, however, the process is "unfinished." And may the concept of ... one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all, become a reality.
"We shall overcome!" he wrote with great faith in and hope in the future.
The letter can be found on the UMC website.