In the first week of April, 2008, we had a small family get together at my brother Brad’s house in Key West, Florida. Donna and I and our kids, Brad and and his wife Jen, my mom and her husband Karl Lutze. It so happened that the fortieth anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination occurred that week, and Brad and I spent the night watching Senator Obama’s “More Perfect Union” speech on my laptop on his porch. Both children of the sixties – Brad born while JFK was president, me born while Bobby and Martin Luther led our nation towards a better future – the anniversary and the thoughtful speech of Senator Obama struck us as a moment to reflect on the period our lives had spanned.
Moreover, it gave us reason to ponder the period that Karl’s life has spanned.
Karl was in Selma, Alabama and walked across a bridge. That was not the beginning of Karl’s involvement in civil rights, just one of the things he had been doing for twenty years by that time to create the world that we live in now.
Rev. Karl Lutze began his civil rights work in 1945, organized many of the voter registration efforts in the south and did so many more things I can’t list them. He still does.
Karl still lives across the street from Valparaiso University, still writes, still speaks and is still a part of all that legacy. It’s always strange for me, because he is just Karl – the wonderful man who makes my mom and my children happy. But when we talk about all of this it is hard to imagine and hard to forget that he has bridged the gap between where we were and where we are.
Karl has authored several amazing books that should be read by anyone who wishes to understand the American civil rights movement, and for that matter anyone who wants a view of what Christianity is supposed to be. In 1967 he challenged Concordia Press, asking them: “Why isn’t there a single Christian publication on the racial issues in this country today?”. They told him that if he wrote it they would publish it without changing a word. So was born the most insightful perspective on the American racial equality I have ever read: “To Mend the Broken”.
More recently, Karl wrote “Awakening to Equality: A Young White Pastor at the Dawn of Civil Rights”. In this book, Karl explains his path from
When Karl Lutze arrived in Oklahoma in 1945, he stepped into another world. A newly ordained clergyman born in Wisconsin, he was a young white man assigned to minister among Muskogee’s African American community. He soon found that in the South, crosses were as likely to be burned as revered. His recollections of postwar Oklahoma provide a compelling testament to the era’s racial conflict and some steps taken toward its resolution.
Awakening to Equality offers a unique perspective on an often-violent era that witnessed the gradual dismantling of segregation. Serving congregations in Muskogee and Tulsa, Lutze encountered a cross section of both communities-from the white and black power brokers to the most disempowered black and biracial families-and a stratified society buttressed by intimidation, cross burnings, and bombs. His activism in the Urban League and other local civil rights organizations gave him firsthand experience with forces moving toward change, as well as with the more entrenched forces resisting it.
Blending personal anecdotes and recollections of key players in this unfolding drama, Lutze puts a human face on historical and journalistic accounts of social change during the crucial early years of the civil rights movement. He takes readers back to small-town and urban Oklahoma in a time when African Americans were beginning to challenge segregation in Muskogee’s public transportation and a handful of liberal whites were trying to move their communities toward desegregation. Throughout this rich memoir, we meet actual people creating a future-one that involved the very redefinition of America.
More than a view of an earnest young clergyman trying to grow beyond the racial and social limitations of the church of his day, Awakening to Equality also depicts the struggles of Lutze’s own denomination to overcome its earlier accommodation of racism. Lutze’s success in his ministries made his achievements a model for mission work among African Americans and led to his appointment in 1959 first as field secretary and then shortly thereafter as executive director of the Lutheran Human Relations Association, a pioneering civil rights organization. Simultaneously, he taught classes as Associate Professor of Theology at Valparaiso University.
Lutze not only witnessed important events but also participated in them and found that his entire career was shaped by the experience. Awakening to Equality is a moving story that captures the real-life education of a prominent clergyman during a critical period in American life.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v… Bobby Kennedy, April 4, 1968
Seeing that video sitting here in Key West, Karl sleeping upstairs, all the current foolishness being said in today’s media, the amazing speech Senator Obama gave that I watched again with my brother last night… It’s hard to comprehend the magnitude of where we have come from, hard sometimes to reconcile where we are, and impossible to allow us to not go to where this all leads.
Recently I do and say a lot of things because I want us to get there, and part of it is helping Barack Obama become president. Not because I care that he’s black but because I don’t care and I’d rather no-one else would, either. I don’t want my children to even think about such things. He’s an immensely qualified man and the fact that it is even mentioned shows that the ice hasn’t melted entirely. Not just yet.
So if the price we pay today is a scrimish of words to chuff the last of the ice off the windshield it’s so very worth it, and it’s nothing at all to do.
It’s nothing compared to the price Bobby paid, or his brother. Nothing compared to what Dr. King paid.
Sleep well, Karl. I’ve got the torch.