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MLK Events Challenge Montanans To Fight Injustice

Billings First Congregational Church and Not In Our Town will host a Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration Jan. 19, 2020.
Nicky Ouellet
Yellowstone Public Radio
Billings First Congregational Church and Not In Our Town will host a Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration Jan. 19, 2020.

MLK Events Seek To Pit Everyone Against InjusticeGroups across Montana are hosting sermons and talks this weekend in honor of civil rights champion Martin Luther King, Jr.

King’s legacy stands on his radical protest against systems of oppression, namely the Jim Crow laws that upheld power for some and excluded others on the basis of skin color.

Mindi Driscoll says 60 years later, systems drawn on racial lines are still at play in Montana. As a lawyer, she says sees failures in the justice system due to boundaries of tribal, state and federal jurisdiction.

"I, as a white person, could go up the road to the Crow Indian Reservation. I could pull out a gun and right in the middle of the street with 100 witnesses, I could shoot an Indian on the reservation and I would not be triable in the community's court system," Driscoll says.

The federal government can press charges against non-tribal members on tribal lands but Driscoll says the lack local agency "leaves people feeling completely powerless if they can't even protect their own communities through their court system, the system that's supposed to be there for people to redress wrongs."

Driscoll is a board member of Not In Our Town, which, in partnership with Billings First Congregational Church, is hosting “Everybody against injustice: beyond militarism, extreme materialism, and racism” this Sunday at 3 P.M.

"Can we just state as a baseline: Everybody is against injustice. That's where they start from," says Pastor Mike Mulberry.

Mulberry says to get beyond injustice, we need to investigate the underlying laws and institutions that lead to disproportionate rates of substance abuse, incarceration and homelessness for Native Americans.

"Everybody versus injustice can be something that all of Billings signs onto, believing that nobody wants to see the suffering that is going on in the Billings streets. It's time. It's overdue. And it's time for us, with an act of will, bring about change and transformation," he says.

Mulberry says his sermon will draw from King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech at the Riverside Church in New York City in 1967, in which King merged his crusade for civil rights at home with calls to end the war in Vietnam.

"We have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would hardly live on the same block in Chicago. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor," King said.

“Beyond Vietnam” was initially criticized as an oversimplification and conflation of the equally weighty but separate issues of civil rights and foreign policy, though it’s now celebrated as one of King’s most unrestrained and prophetic talks.

This weekend, churches, universities and groups in Helena, Bozeman, Missoula, Whitefish, Great Falls and elsewhere in the state will host celebrations, sermons, days of service and bell ringings in honor of King.


Copyright 2020 Yellowstone Public Radio

Nicky is MTPR's Flathead-area reporter.
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