A Time To Pause; A Time to Assess: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Greetings and Salutations;

Today is January 16,  2017,   a day that commemorates the life and actions of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.  As he was a man of Peace,  and contemplation,  I thought it right to take a moment,  sit back,  and remember his efforts and beliefs.   To  ask myself “How can I apply his lessons about dealing with oppression,  racism and oppression  to the world today?”   The past few months have,  alas,  been some of the most chaotic and unpleasant in the past  100 years of American History.   In spite of the chaos and Evil of the two World Wars that this period covers,  which were bad enough,  This past year has seen more polarization and division between the Citizens since the Civil War, in the 1860s.

John Lewis
Civil Right’s Activist
United States Senator

The Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s  was a pivotal moment in American History.   Some of us are old enough to have lived through that time…and remember the changes it brought.  As with ALL huge changes in society,  it did not come without pain,  suffering and Sacrifice.  However,  throughout,  Dr. King preached that Peace was stronger than War.  That it was stronger than Violence.   That Peace was stronger than than Hate,  and, that the only way,  we could progress as a society  was to embrace that Peace,  and use it as our strength and shield  to push through the attacks of Evil.   What was the result of this view?  So many things that I cannot record them here,  today.

 

Dr. King preached Non-Violence in all his efforts.  However,  violence came to him and others anyway.   He,  John Lewis,  Bernie Sanders  and many other leaders and participants in the Civil Rights movement saw their peaceful  marches,  protests,  and publicity met with violence.   After walking one more mile with tired,  hurting feet they were set upon by Law Enforcement officers armed with dogs and fire hoses;   They were beaten and arrested time and time again;  In 1964,  three Civil Right’s Workers were murdered in Mississippi –  Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, both white New Yorkers, had traveled to heavily segregated Mississippi in 1964 to help organize civil rights efforts on behalf of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). The third man, James Chaney, was a local African American man who had joined CORE in 1963;

Bernie Sanders
Civil Right’s Organizer
United States Senator

Dr. King was assassinated outside a Memphis Motel on April 4, 1968.  HOWEVER, after suffering physical abuse at the hands of those same Public Servants and pushing through it;  Society was changed.   Peace had won a huge battle over Hatred.  I hope we all remember the Civil Rights Legislation that was put into the Legal Fabric of our society,  that banned the old practices  of segregation,  oppression, and abusive treatment of these Citizens, and what it cost to create it.

These changes touched almost everyone in the country,  and in some cases,  bringing both positive and negative changes.  I,  for example,  had a moment of surprise that I recall today as clearly as the day it happened.

When I was growing up,  we lived in what was a fairly rural suburb of Knoxville,  TN.   There were few resources within walking distance,  and my mother did not drive.  So,  on a regular basis,  mother and I (and after a while,  my younger sister)  would walk to the end of the driveway,   which was on a bus route,  and ride the bus into downtown Knoxville.   There,  we would wander around doing shopping and such.   There was a Woolworth’s on the main drag,  which, of course,  had that famous lunch counter, and on rare occasions,  I would get the treat of mother taking me to have Lunch at Woolworth’s.

 

While I do not recall the exact date – it was around 1964 – my mother,  I, and my baby sister went into town, and went into Woolworth’s for lunch.   That day,  I saw something there I had never seen.   At one end of the counter,  there was a Black family,  sitting at the Counter,  and waiting for service!  They had a number of empty seats between them and the White folks who were eating at the counter,  and NO one was acknowledging the other group.  It was not Lynching Tense,  but,  there was some tension there,  that even I,  at the age of 9 or so, picked up.

 

Now,  my parents were both well educated and had some experience with the world,  so they had reared us to look upon everyone as an equal… They might LOOK at bit different,  but,  inside, where it counted,  there was no difference between me and them.   As a Lutheran, this was also a lesson re-enforced by the church.   So,  we just hiked up to the bar,  got seats,  and ordered a bit of lunch.   The only thing I really remember of the food was the chocolate Milkshake.  They had some of the best milkshakes in the area at that Lunch Counter,  so it was quite a treat to get to eat one (even if I DID have to share a few spoonfuls with my little sister!).

Well,  the Black family had been sitting there for a while,  I think, when we came in,  and they  were ignored while our order was taken and cooked up.  However,  while our food was coming,  a waitress did take their order, and the staff was working on it when we left.   I have to say that, even at that young age,  I thought it unfair that this family,  who was,  really,  no different from my family,  was being treated so poorly.  However,  the fact that seeing this happening in front of me also really affected my way of looking at the world.   For me,  it was a good change.  It taught me that “equality of all citizens” was not just a collection of meaningless words,  but,  was an important part of our society.

In Knoxville,  there were still places which had not bothered to take the “Coloreds Only”/”Whites Only” signs down from near water fountains and public restrooms up into the early 1970s.  Of course by then,  no one paid a bit of attention to them…so they might have lost their power,  but, they remained a painful reminder of what used to be.   I had hoped that they would be enough of a reminder that succeeding generations of parents would teach their children tolerance and Christian Love for all.  Alas,  as the past year or so has shown us,  Americans have not really embraced that evolutionary thought as much as we should have.

Rev King  was a powerful voice for that change.   His words were infused with the Power of Righteousness,  and moved many to take action.  To Stand Up and not condone,  or tolerate oppression and hate in our hearts or our society.    Today, alas,  America is terribly divided.  The last campaign brought more Evil into our world than was sane,  and while it worked well,  to get the donald elected to the Office of the President,  it was a short-sighted and foolish effort.  To me,  it was a case of dumping gasoline throughout a house,  then lighting a match while standing in the center of it because one wants to remodel it.   This will guarantee that a fresh,  new, house will be built…but the question is…will the arsonist survive to see it?  The Question is…Was this the BEST or most efficient way to go about the changes?   The problem I see with burning the house down is that there is often a lot of very good things that are in that house and a part of it.   Those things are destroyed,  never to be replaced, by simple destruction.   Dr. King never advocated the total destruction of society!  He advocated for CHANGE.  For Improvement.  For taking one bad aspect of our society at a time,  and finding how to remove and replace it with something good.

As he said in his most famous address to the citizens,  delivered 28 August 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C…”I Have A Dream…”.   Today, alas,  I fear that Dr King’s dream has been dimmed by greed,  political intrigue,  and hatred.   It is up to each of us to take up the banner,   Walk the Walk,  and not allow the advances that Dr. King,  John Lewis,  Bernie Sanders,  and many, many others won.  Some of these brave Citizens gave their blood to the cause…Some, like Dr. King,  gave their lives. Honor their sacrifices and walk the path of equality and self-knowledge that they progressed us on.

Let me leave you with the words of one of the 100 best speeches ever given in America:  (Here is a LINK that includes the audio of this speech and some reference information that is of interest)

“I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow west and today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames ofwithering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check.When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, inso far as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked”insufficient funds.”

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.

We cannot turn back.

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights,”When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: “For Whites Only.” We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of youhave come from areas where your quest — quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia,go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

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.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and blackgirls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and everyhill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all fleshshall see it together.”

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.

Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride,

From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies ofPennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring,when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city,we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

                Free at last! Free at last!

               Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

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