Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“History is the long and tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily … we know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
These words were written by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963 as he was incarcerated in a jail in Birmingham, Alabama. Only five years before he was assassinated.
Today, we honor this courageous man’s legacy with a federal holiday, a date on the calendar first observed in the United States on January 20, 1986, three years after President Ronald Reagan signed a bill establishing the federal holiday in King’s honor. In 1992, President George H.W. Bush proclaimed the holiday to be observed on the third Monday of January to be close to his birthday of January 15. And on January 17, 2000, the holiday was officially observed in all 50 states nationwide and Washington, D.C., for the first time.
We honor the memory of King respectfully because he helped engineer the American civil rights movement through nonviolence and civil disobedience.
Civil Rights Ministry
During the summer of 1965, two Sisters of Providence, Sister Alma Louise Mescher and Sister Mary Jean Mark, volunteered to travel to Georgia from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods after King had sent a letter to colleges around the country asking for assistance with his program, Summer Community Organization and Political Education (S.C.O.P.E.).
Sister Marie Perpetua, then president of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, received the letter and urged the Congregation’s Leadership Team to let the College have permission to take part in the project and the team agreed.
Sister Alma Louise and Sister Jean Mary were joined by four students from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and two from Indiana State University as they traveled to Georgia to assist.
The program helped educate African Americans in addition to getting them registered to vote. More than 48,000 voters were registered during that summer.
While there, Sister Alma Louise and Sister Mary Jean established the Freedom School in Albany, Georgia, and taught youth and adults how to read, write and do mathematics, teaching youth during the day and adults at night.
While they were in Georgia, they had to undergo training for the ministry of getting voters registered. In a 1968 issue of the Congregation’s former magazine “Canticle,” Sister Mary Jean wrote about a training session in Atlanta where they both encountered King.
Sister Mary Jean wrote, “We had been expecting him all day, though the timing of his arrival remained unannounced … one of King’s men explained to me that it would be dangerous to publicize his arrival … for he had many enemies. In spring, three years later one of those enemies found his target.”
Sister Mary Jean continued: “I hope that King’s death has transmitted the message of his authenticity and that the white man will respect and support the leadership King bequeathed to us. But the white man must act to bridge the inequalities under which the black man sweats. The sacrifices of Martin Luther King will be in vain unless, in Pope Paul’s words: ‘the virtues of justice and brotherly love for which Reverend Mr. King labored … (are) everywhere respected.’”
Sister Alma Louise was later featured in a Tribune-Star article in 2007 where she reflected on her time in Georgia in 1965.
“It was a life-altering experience,” Sister Alma Louise was quoted as saying.
In that same article, Sister Rosemary Nudd said Sister Alma Louise was called “one of the heroes of our college.”