Was it really 40 years ago? The media has a “new” focus for the day. CNN is running reports about the murder of Dr. King. I can not begin to count the number of times I have seen this image in the paper or on the television in the last couple days, much less the last couple hours.
Frenzied fingers pointing to the source of the bullet that ripped through Dr. King’s face and left him mortally wounded, dreams shattered by one hate filled bullet. Surrounded by friends, left naked to a society that was polarized by the thought of equality for all.
That was 40 years ago today. The focus is on the fallen hero. The pain and memory of the murder is as palpable right now as it was when the news flash raced across America like a wild fire in Santa Anna winds. No sooner had the news reached 120 or so inner cities that those that were caught in the struggle fell into the streets and began mayhem that lasted for days. White America was in shock and fear. Cities were burning…….
As the fire turned to ash and acrid smoke filled the air……. looting began
Major cities all across the country called out the National Guard to support the over burdened policed. Towns that just a few days earlier had been focused on Lyndon Johnson’s pronouncement the he would not seek another term, now faced armed camps.
Fear filled days widened the chasm between the races. Angst ridden hours erased years of progress. A movement that had taken hold in the American consciousness, was becoming unraveled in the wake of the murder of it’s most notable leader. One culture could not understand the reaction of the other.
Buildings were burned down, stores were looted and residents of poor neighborhoods howled at the moon in the only fashion available. It was lost on many that this group of disenfranchised people were destroying businesses in their community. While white, middle and upper class Americans watched on television in the safety of their suburban communities, the poor struck out at everything and anything that represented power or a life better than they had. It made no logical sense. It was not burning buildings, no, it was raw burning emotion.
The flames licked smoked clouds that hung over cities and the “silent majority” smugly whispered “I told you so” to one another. “Look at those people”, they shared. The smoke got in our eyes and clouded our memory. This was not just a man. How could we forgot that our society created the conditions that gave birth to his cause. We forgot that tired woman that just sat down.
Millions ride side by side today. King was murdered and we forgot Rosa’s legacy. It seems we also over looked.
oh, and we also overlooked the burning anger and resentment for this sort of thing..
Right here in the U.S. of A. , using water hoses against people marching peaceably in protest against unfair and immoral treatment. Bull Connor and there rest of his croonies created a bitterness that will last long after the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr fades. Did we collectively, as a nation, forget that our behaviour (actions) will last much longer than our words.
Today, can we attempt to recall the clarion cry of Dr. King….”I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” He made that plea 5 years before he was murdered.
In the days and months that led to his murder, his focus was on working towards equality in the workplace at home and ending our involvement overseas in Vietnam. The struggle that led Lyndon Johnson to back off a second term, was also a focus of Dr. King.
In April of 1967, he shared, “As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked, and rightly so, “What about Vietnam?” They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems. . . . Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government.”
I have to ask, how much has really changed? We have added a new group to our minority classification. We have voiced a desire to send them back home. We are mired in a struggle in a foreign land that has also revealed our penchant for dealing with opponents through violence. We continue to move slowly in any method of putting an end to the senseless violence we visit with one another. We do little to cease the body count of women and children savaged by “loved” ones.
We speak publicly about a united states of America. Our surface is squeaky clean. Today the lily white majority will hold memorial services. Talking heads will pontificate about the great tragedy that occurred on motel balcony in Memphis 40 years ago.
The truth about our progress and our dedication to the ideals Dr. King shared can be found in the ghettos and barrios in and around our major cities. Ask any young African American about how they are treated when shopping. Ask them about the sales clerk that is so attentive, they follow them from aisle to aisle. Ask them about how they are treated because of their fashion choices. Ask them to paint fear for you and they will paint a portrait of societies eyes. Ask any older African American how they feel in their gut when a siren sounds behind them when they are driving. Ask any one of the Hispanic speaking immigrants how they are treated on a daily basis. Ask them to describe how their language or skin color has them painted in a corner before their day begins. A man died and his dream is fading after 40 years. Rather than revel in the memory, a nation should hang their collective head in shame. You can not legislate morality. You should not have to do that. We will only become the nation we would like to believe we are by shedding the 200 year old cloak of fear, hate, prejudice, racism, jingoism, isolationism we continue to wear.
I was there. It was a magical day. I grew up in a tiny southern town and did not have a clue. I have lived here all my life. I have tasted the bitterness brought on by the actions of small minded people. My promise today is that even though there are times that I don’t think of Dr. King and there are times his murder seems to fade from my conscious thought, I will never forget the roots of his anger and the focus of his mission. I still want to reach that mountain top. I still want to live in a country that is ruled by law. I still want those laws applied equally and fairly to all.
Our opportunity as a people and a nation to become better is always alive and well. Hopes of fulfilling all that our forefathers promised did not die on that balcony in Memphis. They did not die in Parkland Hospital in 1963. They did not die in a California hotel kitchen in 1968. They did not die at any time. They may not seem attainable. They are.
When you ride a bus or a metro today, and the car is filled with people of all races, colors and both sexes, understand, we are better. When you sit at a lunch counter today, and you are among people of all races, colors and both sexes, understand, we are better. When you use any public facility and find you are among people of all races, colors and both sexes, understand, we are better.
We have come this far.
Today, let us promise to finish his journey.