He wrote about it in a letter to a woman who recommended it as a way to move hearts.
By courtesy of Father Joseph Mary Wolfe, MFVA, Franciscan Missionary of the Eternal Word and with his permission, I am sharing with Aleteia readers a letter written on September 23, 1964, by Martin Luther King Jr. (1928-1968), who at that time was the President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
This historic document reveals the spirit and heart of this Baptist pastor who, inspired by the example of Gandhi, used nonviolence as a strategy to defend the civil rights of Black Americans.
What MLK wrote
Here is the letter in question. The text reads:
Dear Miss Blackburn: Thank you for your letter of recent date. It is always a pleasure to share the opinions of our friends of goodwill. My apparent negligence was due to the fact that I wanted to give your letter my personal attention, and the tremendous volume of mail before me. I appreciate very much your thoughtfulness in my behalf. The Rosery (sic) has proven to be very helpful. Your letter warmed my heart and gave me new determination. Let us continue to work and pray together for a better world. Sincerely yours, Martin Luther King, Jr.
The letter’s recipient
It was Ms. Murielle Blackburn herself who sent the original of this letter to Fr. Joseph Mary. She wrote the priest when she was 81, explaining that she had a letter she had received from King in 1964 in which he mentions the Rosary. She recounted that she had written to King at the time of the civil rights marches, saying that the Rosary was the best way to win hearts.
Blackburn told Fr. Joseph Mary: “I would like to give this letter to you before I die. Would you like to receive it?”
The year that Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote that brief letter to Mrs. Blackburn (1964) was the same year he received the Nobel Peace Prize.
It was also the year that President Lyndon Johnson, who succeeded Kennedy after he was assassinated, enacted the Civil Rights Act.
Timely as ever
King’s principles continue to inspire many people today.
His thoughts are expressed in several works. In addition to the famous Letter from Birmingham Jail, we should mention Strength to Love (1965) and The Trumpet of Conscience (1968).
However, the text that has caused the greatest universal admiration is his most famous speech, “I Have a Dream,” which he gave on August 28, 1963, to the 250,000 members of the March in Washington, at the foot of the Lincoln Monument. In his speech, he refers to the president who, a century earlier, had abolished slavery:
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentus decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity. But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. (…) I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
A Baptist and the Rosary
It’s truly inspiring that this great man, a Baptist pastor who embodied the spirit of the Beatitudes (Mt. 5:3-12) in his life and in his peaceful struggle, recognized the value of the Rosary.
And do we who are Catholics give the Rosary a place in our lives, aware of the value and strength of this beautiful Marian prayer? That’s for each of us to answer.