Topics: African Americans, Civil Rights, History, Human Rights, Martin Luther King
I believe the little girl with Dr. Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King is Yolanda. She is deceased now along with her parents, but her niece namesake just spoke at the March For Our Lives, looking remarkably like her iconic grandfather. Despite all the reveals of Dr. King as a flawed philanderer as investigative journalists are apt to do, he was at the end of the day a husband, a man and a father. As he said on the previous day, "longevity has its place."His death came year-to-date of his denouncement of his nation's involvement in Vietnam, that would eventually claim the lives of almost 60,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen, affecting survivors with post traumatic stress disorder; drug abuse, alcoholism and suicide. Total deaths numbered in the millions. Had he lived, I'm sure he would have addressed these concerns as part of his vision of "The Beloved Community," which ostensibly included all of humanity.
They would still be crying as they tried to get through their daily routine. Getting me ready for kindergarten at Bethlehem Community Center. I had seen my mother cry on occasion - church, funerals - my father's eyes were red and his hands trembled as we drove from our home to school. They were both worried about my older sister - a youth active in the Civil Rights movement. They briefly didn't know here whereabouts. The worry hung over the home like a dark veil. I was too: like every march, every demonstration where it wasn't guaranteed she'd get out of it alive. It was a lot for someone new to the planet sometimes. She turned up, heartbroken. She and my mother hugged each other and cried, inconsolably.
This was a time of emotions - rough, raw and gut-wrenching. I was five years old. I didn't know what to feel until I arrived at Bethlehem.
I remember seeing this the night before from my father's lap:
But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
I didn't quite understand his eloquence. I asked my father. It was April 3, 1968. He honestly didn't know.
These broadcasts were probably what caused the walls of hope to come crashing around my family:
The preschool and kindergarten teachers at Bethlehem decided to explain our loss to us the next day, partly to process what had just happened themselves. We did all cry, finally - as if we had just lost a favorite uncle or grandfather. Barely on the planet, we were suddenly having to contemplate a loss as tears fell like rainwater in a storm. Dr. King would come on the black radio station WAAA in Winston-Salem, NC as they broadcast a program from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference "Martin Luther King Speaks." I remember hearing his distinguished voice; the pitch and pentameter of a preacher well-rehearsed and natural to him. I remember when it wasn't a recording of a deceased ancestor.
We went to nap early. It was all the energy has to do. We awoke to the blaring sounds of horns, the sight of confederate flags flown from pickup trucks and shotguns, celebratory of his death; the shouts of dark triumph from a sick cadre. That day, we played inside.
Dr. King was the victim of gun violence by a confirmed racist. Despite any theories about who actually performed the deed, what the motivations were, whether or not the government was involved: he was a victim of gun violence, a long line in this country, before breathless pronunciations of ArmaLite 15 rifles. As was Malcolm X. As was Medgar Evers. As were members of the Black Panther Party of self-defense. As would Robert Kennedy follow in the dark shadow of his brother, President John F. Kennedy. From Native American genocide, African kidnappings followed by: lynchings, castrations, body burning, burning crosses, voter intimidation, church bombings, the slaughter of innocents by the police or citizens empowered by fear and bigotry; the "othering" of an African American president by his pathologically lying grifter successor - the red stripes in the flag aren't just those of "Founding Fathers," and patriots (or, revamped psychopaths), but the blood of violence shed by this nation's victims. We were in "the promised land" for eight, short years! We were inexorably pushed by bigotry and birtherism to a nascent nostalgia for mythological white picket fences; economic isolationism, ethno-nationalism, social, sexual and cultural demarcations: "great again" for some, and not for "others." As a nation, we've been at war - externally with enemies and internally, with one another - more than we've ever been at, or encouraged peace.
After every shooting of innocents, we often in naval-gazing fashion say something to the effect of "we're BETTER than this!" In 50 years of violence I've witnessed since in wars, rumors of wars, gang violence, crack and meth addiction, the expansion of the wealth gap; an increase in productivity while wages remain stagnant at 1973 levels (Dr. King was in Memphis campaigning for wage increases for sanitation workers); healthcare debated as privilege or right and the current position we find ourselves in with a demagogue installed by an enemy state in possession of the nuclear codes, I'm not so sure we are any better than what's evidenced. Perhaps...not.
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