InterVarsity Press author Ed Gilbreath, executive director of communications with the Evangelical Covenant Church and editor at large for Christianity Today, was featured as a part of "The Power of Words"—North Central College's (Naperville, Ill.) week of events commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Gilbreath addressed a crowd of more than 120 students, faculty and local residents Monday evening on the topics presented in his new book Birmingham Revolution: Martin Luther King Jr.'s Epic Challenge to the Church.
The week of events at North Central College annually recognizes King and his civil rights work. In November 1960, King spoke on the campus in downtown Naperville during chapel at Pfeiffer Hall. His speech, titled "Stride Toward Freedom" was a part of the pattern of civil resistance crisscrossing the United States. Gilbreath's talk Monday evening was given near the site of King's original speech, at Koten Chapel on the downtown Naperville campus.
"One of the highlights of this college's more than 150 year history is Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1960 visit," said Dr. Richard Guzman, professor of English at North Central College and one of the organizers for Monday's event. "Ed Gilbreath's talk to an overflow crowd some fifty-four years later not only taught us more about Dr. King's courage and tactical brilliance, but his closing rendition of King's famous 'How Long? Not Long' speech also made us feel like Dr. King was actually right there with us. It reminded us of the spiritual and moral power he brought to the civil rights movement, a power we need just as urgently today."
As discussed in Birmingham Revolution, Gilbreath focused on how King's two primary motivations, his deep anger and his strong faith, were the fuel of what became the civil rights movement. They were, as Gilbreath noted, the important combination to bring about racial reconciliation across a divided nation in the 1960s. Gilbreath showed the relevance of King's words for today, as a nation and as a church.
"It was a humbling and exhilarating evening for me as an author and as a person indebted to the ministry of Martin Luther King Jr.," said Gilbreath. "To be able to honor the legacy of Dr. King and remind others that his message and mission grew out of the church was a great privilege. I believe the words of Dr. King, so many of which were drawn directly from the Word of God, have the kind of power and resonance that are hard to ignore. There are so many issues confronting us today—both spiritual and political—to which King's words still have relevance."
InterVarsity Press also published Gilbreath's previous book Reconciliation Blues, which gives an insightful, honest picture of both the history and the present state of racial reconciliation in evangelical churches.
"InterVarsity Press has long been committed to publishing on issues of racial reconciliation, justice and social change," said Jeff Crosby, associate publisher and co-organizer of the event. "We were delighted to work with Dr. Guzman and the multicultural affairs staff at North Central College to bring Ed Gilbreath and his powerful message to the campus and the Naperville community as part of the Martin Luther King Week festivities. It was a message of hope, but also of challenge to all of us to continue working toward the realization of the dream that King spoke of so eloquently, and yearned for so passionately."
Gilbreath's benediction Monday evening was comprised of portions of King's speech "How Long? Not Long" following the march from Selma to Montgomery in March 1965:
"I know you are asking today, 'How long will it take?' Somebody's asking, 'How long will prejudice blind the visions of men, darken their understanding, and drive bright-eyed wisdom from her sacred throne?' Somebody's asking, 'When will wounded justice, lying prostrate on the streets of Selma and Birmingham and communities all over the South, be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men?' Somebody's asking, 'When will the radiant star of hope be plunged against the nocturnal bosom of this lonely night, plucked from weary souls with chains of fear and the manacles of death? How long will justice be crucified, and truth bear it?'...
"How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice...
"How long? Not long, because... His truth is marching on."