We are thankful to hear from two distinguished Greek Americans, Dr. Aristotle Papanikolaou and Dr. George Demacopoulos, who recently published an essay about the injustices African Americans face. The authors encourage us to step into their shoes, and we agree that the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese has a role to play in the struggle for justice. We do not, however, ignore or apologize for our grandparents’ generation. As Archbishop Iakovos attested to, our grandparents are examples for us to emulate in today’s struggle.
Papanikolaou and Demacopoulos argue that the generation of Greek Americans who lived during the Civil Rights movement did not understand its moral necessity. They paint a picture in which many Greek Americans were racists and maligned Archbishop Iakovos for marching at Selma. Yet His Eminence painted a different picture. Following his appearance, he issued this press statement:
On March 15, 1965, something momentous occurred. Martin Luther King Jr. marched down the streets of Selma side by side with various important religious and social leaders to memorialize the deaths of two civil rights heroes. With him marched Archbishop Iakovos—the only white bishop who had responded to the call to march.
The three marches on Selma served to highlight the inequality and racial discrimination African-Americans were still facing at the time, even after the 1964 Civil Rights Act. These marches are said to have directly influenced the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a legal measure that sought to protect African-Americans from unfair voting roadblocks.
Now, over 50 years later, progress has been made. The icing on the cake is surely the eight years Barack Obama has spent in the Oval Office. A black president—elected and re-elected—surely must be the signal that racism, especially explicit racism, is a phenomenon of the past.
Martin Luther King, Jr., was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1929, the son of Alberta Williams King and Martin Luther King, Sr., pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church. King’s childhood was happy and secure, though all too early he was made aware of the hurts inflicted by racism. Like his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, he entered the ministry, and throughout the years of his leadership in the civil rights movement, he remained a preacher, regularly occupying the pulpit for Sunday worship, and drawing upon the black church tradition in which he was formed for both the style and content of the political speeches he delivered at demonstrations and appearances in the public square. Courses in philosophy, ethics, and theology at Morehouse College, Crozer Theological Seminary, and Boston University provided King with the opportunity to develop an intellectual framework for systematic analysis of the relationship between Christianity and society, but the existential base for his commitment to social justice was already established in the tradition of black religious protest exemplified by his father’s and grandfather’s embrace of social gospel activism. Strongly attracted to the intellectual life, King might have combined ministerial and academic careers by choosing job offers at schools in the North, but in 1954 he chose instead to accept the fateful call to pastor Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Continue reading →