letterEvery January, Candler’s Bishop-in-Residence Woodie W. White writes a “birthday letter” to Martin Luther King, Jr. describing the progress and pitfalls in race relations during the previous year.

White, who met Dr. King in the early 1960s, wrote his first letter to the civil rights icon in 1976 for a public speaking engagement, and began the annual practice in 1985. The letters are published each year by United Methodist News Service.

“It was a way to get kind of a year’s assessment on what the nation was accomplishing and not accomplishing in the area of race,” White said in a 2014 interview with Religion News Service. “I did it because, frankly, I needed to have perspective. I needed to not get discouraged, and I needed it to be affirming of progress in race which had taken place over the course of a year.”

In this year’s letter, White recognizes the upcoming 50th anniversary of the march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., which precipitated the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He then describes recent events that have discouraged many.

“A national conversation on race is emerging,” he tells King, noting the enactment of voting rights laws that make it more difficult to register to vote and the deaths of unarmed African Americans at the hands of police officers, who will not be indicted.  

“We continue to face a lot of work in this nation on the issue of race. At times, we appear to move backward and forward simultaneously. The truth is, Martin, the events of the last 50 years are evidence of how far we have come in our journey to become ‘one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.’ But, the last 50 days are evidence as well of how far we have yet to go!”

Read White’s 2015 letter in Interpreter magazine.

Read the 2014 Religion News Service article on White’s letters to King.

Video filmed and edited by Joseph McBrayer 09T 17T, a student in Candler’s DMin program.