Monday, January 15, 2018
Thoughts on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
We celebrate today the birthday and life of the foremost African American civil rights leader, but above all a great American, whose life was cut short at age 39 by an assassin. The young Reverend King went to Montgomery, Alabama in 1954 to be the pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, an African American church one block below the Alabama State Capitol. He did not know it at the time, but his future was set on December 1, 1955 when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus to a white man. The Montgomery Bus Boycott began on December 5. An organizing committee, the Montgomery Improvement Association, was formed. Dr. King was chosen to head the MIA. The other civil rights leaders in Montgomery recognized that Dr. King was the natural leader of the Movement. He was now the public face of the Civil Rights Movement. His speeches and writings resonated throughout America. Others, the Reverends Ralph David Abernathy, Joseph Lowery, and Fred Shuttlesworth, and Baltimore’s A. Philip Randolph, were great leaders in their own right, but they knew Martin Luther King, Jr. was the one. A student, John Lewis, was severely injured during the attacks on the Freedom Riders at the Greyhound Bus Station in Montgomery, Alabama. He is now a revered Congressman from Atlanta. Thurgood Marshall, a leading African American lawyer in the civil rights cases, was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Johnson. Many more civil rights leaders, local, regional, and national, are lost to modern history. MLK has remained the leader amongst leaders in the struggles. He is the symbol of the African American Civil Rights Movement, but they all should be remembered. The southern leaders of the movement. faced arrests, beatings, bombings, lynching, murder, and shootings. The houses of Dr. King and the Reverend Ralph David Abernathy were bombed as were four African American churches during the Montgomery Bus Boycott. More known today is the tragic bombing of the 16 Street Baptist Church in Birmingham on September 15, 1963. Dr. King was arrested over two dozen times. His Letter from a Birmingham City Jail is a classic. The leaders knew that they were not only risking their lives, but the lives of their family members, colleagues, and friends. They shower real courage. They knew they could not depend upon law enforcement to protect them. Too many officers led, assisted or tolerated the rabid segregationists, including Commissioner Bull Conner of Birmingham, Dallas County (Selma) Sheriff Jim Clark, and Sheriff Lawrence A. Rainey and Deputy Sheriff Ray Price of Neshoba County, Mississippi. Unbeknownst to Dr. King, J. Edgar Hoover put him under FBI surveillance and wiretapping. As law enforcement, especially federal, and with the supportive judicial decisions, especially at the Supreme Court, the Civil rights protestors could increasingly rely on the Rule of Law. As Dr. King said: “It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of the three great apostles of non-violence in seeking freedom and equality for their people: Dr. King, Gandhi, and Cesar Chavez. They practiced non-violence, even when violence was used against them. What would Dr. King see if he were alive today? Tremendous progress, but … He would have witnessed the election of an African American as President, as well as African Americans as Governors of Massachusetts and Virginia. He will see three African American Senators, including an African American Republican Senator in South Carolina. He will see several African Americans as Representatives in Congress, as well as scores through statehouses. He will see African Americans rising to the top of several corporations, including American Express. He will see scores of actors succeeding in Hollywood. He will see hundreds of African American serving as Mayors, Police Chiefs and Sheriffs. He will see African Americans succeeding in the professions as well as a rising African American middle class. He might think the most famous part of his great I Have a Dream Speech at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963 has been realized: “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.” Yes, he might think that, but he would also be concerned. He will still see signs of inequality in our cities: shabby housing, large scale poverty, high unemployment, high crime rates, drugs and alcohol, too many single mothers, gangs, and black on black crime. He will see a backsliding in race relations. He will see increasing violence by supporters of African American civil rights. Today’s kneeing NFL players are risking nothing but opprobrium by their acts. It doesn’t take courage to kneel. Today’s leaders are preaching divisiveness. Affirmative Action, Black Lives Matter. He will see attacks on “White Privilege” and witness increasing violence by civil right supporters. He sees a war on police. He knows that is not the way to equality.