The Exodus narrative was a common motif in Martin Luther King's speeches and writings. He saw himself in the role of Moses, fighting for his people against the Pharaoh of his day, the Jim Crow laws of the South.
In Dr. King's 1968 "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech, he encouraged the African-American community to stay united during their struggle with the following words:
From "I've Been to the Mountaintop" April 3, 1968, Memphis, Tennessee
"We've got to stay together and maintain unity. You know, whenever Pharaoh wanted to prolong the period of slavery in Egypt, he had a favorite, favorite formula for doing it. What was that? He kept the slaves fighting among themselves. But whenever the slaves get together, something happens in Pharaoh's court, and he cannot hold the slaves in slavery. When the slaves get together, that's the beginning of getting out of slavery. Now let us maintain unity."
- How is the story below an example of what Dr. King was describing?
- Do you think that this is the story that he is referring to?
- Are there other examples of slaves fighting amongst themselves?
- Can you think of an example of a time when the slaves worked together in unity?
A midrash in Shemot Rabbah asks the question of why God spoke to Moses from the burning bush and provides several answers. The answers give us many ways of looking at the struggle for civil rights and all fights against injustice. Which of the explanations resonate with what you know about Dr. King's life and the Civil Rights Movement in general?
- Why might Dr. King have seen Moses and the Exodus story as an apt metaphor for himself and the civil rights movement?
- What aspects of the story are similar?
- What other examples of the use of the Bible in the civil rights movement can you think of?