Today was a long day and I didn't get to dig into the tree-pulp edition of The Washington Post until after dark, during a later-than-normal commuter train home to the south side of Baltimore. The front page was, of course, dominated by the coverage of the dedication -- finally -- of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall.
I have, you will not be surprised to learn, long been fascinated by the evolution of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., into Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Thus, I dug into the news coverage looking for signs that "the Rev." remained in place. Alas, the answer is "no."
Visually, the coverage contained quite a bit of religion. Some people came for church.
In terms of the words, however, this event was all about politics, race and, well, politics. If you wanted to know all about the political controversies and triumphs surrounding this man, the Post was the place to go.
There was, apparently, little or no need to this team of reporters and editors to cover the role that Christian faith and biblical oratory played in the inspiring and tumultuous life of one of the most important religious leaders in the history of our nation.
Looking for the Baptist preacher in this story?
Well, President Barack Obama was quoted, in the Post:
Obama spoke shortly after 11 a.m. in a VIP area on the grounds of the memorial, cordoned off from the general public. His speech was broadcast live to the public and on television.
He praised King as the “black preacher with no official rank or title who somehow gave voice to our deepest dreams and our most lasting ideals.”
That's it, in terms of the newsprint. The actual content of the president's address contained much more than that, in terms of religious content. For example, the following language struck me as particularly significant for those with the ears to hear:
It is precisely because Dr. King was a man of flesh and blood and not a figure of stone that he inspires us so. His life, his story, tells us that change can come if you don’t give up. He would not give up, no matter how long it took, because in the smallest hamlets and the darkest slums, he had witnessed the highest reaches of the human spirit; because in those moments when the struggle seemed most hopeless, he had seen men and women and children conquer their fear; because he had seen hills and mountains made low and rough places made plain, and the crooked places made straight and God make a way out of no way.
Maybe that final biblical image was a bit too complex to be included.
However, there was one other reference in the Post coverage suggesting that this event was rooted in religious faith, just as much as it was in politics. Once again, the great Aretha Franklin was on hand and, well, she delivered the goods.
She sang the Gospel classic "Precious Lord, Take My Hand" because, according to the cutline on one of the inside photographs, the queen of soul noted that this hymn (click here for a classic performance) was "a favorite of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr." Thus, in honor of "the Rev." she sang:
Precious Lord, take my hand Lead me on, let me stand I am tired, I am weak, I am worn Through the storm, through the night Lead me on to the light Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home
When my way grows drear Precious Lord linger near When my life is almost gone Hear my cry, hear my call Hold my hand lest I fall Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home
When the darkness appears And the night draws near And the day is past and gone At the river I stand Guide my feet, hold my hand Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home
Precious Lord, take my hand Lead me on, let me stand I'm tired, I'm weak, I'm lone Through the storm, through the night Lead me on to the light Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home
So these words were included in the ceremony on the mall.