“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
That declaration is often attributed to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but it actually originated from a Lexington native, the Rev. Theodore Parker, an 18th Century Unitarian minister and abolitionist, according to the historian who spoke at Sunday’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day commemoration at the First Baptist Church in Bedford.
The keynote speaker was Dr. Robert A. Bellinger, history professor emeritus at Suffolk University in Boston and head of Righting Histories, a consulting company that conducts research on African American history and engages in public history projects. The title of his remarks was “Morality and Justice.”
Sunday’s event was the 51st annual service at First Baptist, originally organized by Muriel Morris and Claudia Smith.
Bellinger noted that King “reminded us that a just society is not an inevitability.” People “have a moral responsibility to take direct action,” emanating from “tireless beliefs.”
Quoting the author James Baldwin, the speaker said, “The challenge is in the moment. The time is now.”
That was King’s approach as well, he said, as he and the civil rights movement were “the moral center of the United States.”
“Our memory of the past helps us gauge where we are,” Bellinger said.
He noted that 2026, the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, also will mark 150 years since the end of Reconstruction. Since then, the truth of the post-Reconstruction era has been hidden, he added.
King’s dream was “deeply rooted in the American dream,” Bellinger said, and “it’s up to us to help make that future possible. As we remember and honor Rev. Dr. King, I ask: What is the dream for the future of our nation, and what do you see when you look through the horizon?”
Bellinger was introduced by parishioner Joseph Zellner, also a retired educator.
Among the other speakers at Sunday’s program was attorney Sheila McCravy Ghazarian, a Bedford High School graduate and an officer at Eliot Community Health Services. Expanding on the message of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Ghazarian said America has strayed from its foundational ideals – “a place where it never has been” in actuality.
“Did America stray away or is it exactly where it began? And if so, where do we go from here,” she asked rhetorically.
As has been the custom throughout the decade of the Martin Luther King, Jr. commemoration at First Baptist, the service concluded with participants and audience forming a circle in song. This year’s choice was “We Shall Overcome,” which has been an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement for more than 60 years.