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February 08, 2021

Civil Rights Activists

Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches used powerful imagery that captured the minds of his audience. Some of his most well-known references were biblical, like his use of the “promised land” in his “Mountaintop” speech. But King was not alone among civil rights activists.

Modjeska Simkins, the secretary of the NAACP in South Carolina, drew on a wide range of biblical themes and images. In one example, she references the biblical idea of spiritual battle in the book of Ephesians, which reads: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of darkness in this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” James Lawson, a Methodist minister, worked with King and trained activists in non-violence. He looked to the example of Jesus as portrayed in the Bible:

“The politics of Jesus . . . are that people should be fed, that people have access to life, that people should be treated equally and justly . . . the alien, the stranger, the foreigner, you’re supposed to treat them as you do yourself.” Lawson found not only guidance, but strength, in the Bible.

“There’s an idea in the New Testament that love vanquishes all fear. There is all across the Bible the advice, ‘Do not be afraid! Do not be dismayed.’” King, Simkins, and Lawson—the Bible has offered inspiration to many in the long, difficult fight for civil rights in America.

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