By: Dr. Jerry Bergman
Now that Martin Luther King day is here, I have had a couple young people ask why we celebrate it.
One reason is he is a good role model for young people today. Another reason is he changed America forever. I never met him, but a distant cousin of mine with the same name as mine, Dr. Gerald Bergman (he went by Walter), worked with him on the Freedom Ride.
In the training for the Freedom Ride, the riders had to learn to take verbal and physical abuse to conform to Dr. King’s nonviolence position.
One well-built Black man did not deal will with the mock verbal abuse. So Dr. King sent him home.
As a Baptist minister, he consistently applied the Scriptures to his life, even to his civil rights philosophy.
He recognized, correctly, that the Scriptural teaching is clear, including to love your enemies and to turn the other cheek, meaning to refrain from retaliating when attacked or insulted.
Its easy to love those who love you, but difficult to love those who verbally abuse you. King correctly recognized that most people sympathized, not with bullies, but with persons who are unjustly abused.
In 1960, the Supreme Court integrated all interstate buses and bus stations. The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) decided to test the Court’s decision by sending an interracial team of civil rights workers called the Freedom Riders into the Deep South to use the newly integrated facilities.
On Saturday night, May 13, 1961, the Freedom Rider group had dinner with Martin Luther King. Jr. The next day two buses left, a Greyhound and a Trailways, to test the law by integrating the buses and the restaurants on the trip.
In Anniston, Alabama, the Trailways bus driver told the seven Black and three White Freedom Riders, “Blacks, get to the back of the bus. White people, up front.”
None moved, and no one spoke. Then, the bus doors burst open and eight White men pushed their way past the driver.
After pulling iron bars and chains from paper bags, the eight yanked the Blacks from their seats and pushed them to the back of the bus.
Walter Bergman, then 61, was pushed to the floor and kicked repeatedly in the head. Behind them, Bergman’s wife, Frances, 58, heard the sound of human flesh being brutally beaten for the first time in her life. Frances pleaded with the men to stop.
She said later, “I had never before experienced the feeling of people all around hating me so… I kept thinking, ‘How could these things be happening in 1961?’
Soon after this Walter had a stroke and spent the rest of his life paralyzed in a wheelchair. Such was the cost of fighting for civil rights.
This example was repeated thousands of times in the 40-year-long Civil Rights Movement from 1960 to the year 2000 when most of their goals were fulfilled.
Where did they get the strength to go through this? Why did Dr. King feel so strongly about his struggle which is still going on today?
As a Christian he believed we are all children of Adam and Eve, our first parents. Thus, Blacks and Whites are all brothers.
Dr. King was sharply critical of the misuse of science to promote racial discrimination, and he also spoke forcefully against the belief that humans are the products of a blind material process as evolution teaches.
In a collection of sermons titled Strength to Love, King condemned modern scientific materialism, writing:
To believe that human personality is the result of the fortuitous interplay of atoms and electrons is as absurd as to believe that a monkey, by hitting typewriter keys at random, will eventually produce a Shakespearean play. Sheer magic!
It is much more sensible to say with Sir James Jeans, the physicist, that “the universe seems to be nearer to a great thought than to a great machine,” or with Arthur Balfour, the philosopher, that “we now know too much about matter to be materialists.”
Materialism is a weak flame that is blown out by the breath of mature thinking. This universe is not a tragic expression of meaningless chaos but a marvelous display of orderly cosmos.
He bemoaned the results of “when Darwin’s Origin of Species replaced belief in Creation by the theory of evolution.”
King also was a fierce critic of scientism, the claim that modern science is the only route to truth and we must now rely on science to save society.
King mockingly wrote that modern man had rewritten the Twenty-Third Psalm as: Science is my shepherd; I shall not want. It maketh me to lie down in green pastures: It leadeth me beside the still waters. It restoreth my soul…. I will fear no evil: for science is with me; Its rod and its staff they comfort me. Then Came the Big Bang Explosion [from which everything else evolved].
King was not anti-science, acknowledging that “The achievements of science have been marvelous, tangible, and concrete.”
But he warned that “The means by which we live have outdistanced the ends for which we live. Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power.”
King observed that those who formerly turned to God to find solutions for their problems now turned to science and technology, convinced that they now possessed the instruments required to usher in the new society without God.
He believed that Darwinian theory in particular had been used to promote utopian thinking, writing: “Herbert Spencer skillfully molded the Darwinian theory of evolution into the heady idea of automatic progress. Men became convinced that there is a sociological law of progress that is as valid as the physical law of gravitation.”
But, he added, things didn’t work out quite the way some had hoped: Then came the explosion of this myth. It climaxed in the horrors of Nagasaki and Hiroshima and in the fierce fury of fifty-megaton bombs.
Now we have come to see that science can give us only physical power, which, if not controlled by spiritual power, will lead inevitably to cosmic doom.
These wise words were spoken by a man whose birthday is now a federal holiday, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, observed on the third Monday of January each year.
Dr. Jerry Bergman has taught biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, anthropology, geology, and microbiology for over 40 years at several colleges and universities including Bowling Green State University, Medical College of Ohio where he was a research associate in experimental pathology, and The University of Toledo. He is a graduate of the Medical College of Ohio, Wayne State University in Detroit, the University of Toledo, and Bowling Green State University. He has over 1,800 publications in 12 languages and 60 books and monographs. His books and textbooks that include chapters that he authored are in over 1,500 college libraries in 27 countries.