"We commemorate Dr. King’s inspiring words, because his voice and his vision filled a great void in our nation, and answered our collective longing to become a country that truly lived by its noblest principles. Yet, Dr. King knew that it wasn’t enough just to talk the talk, that he had to walk the walk for his words to be credible. And so we commemorate on this holiday the man of action, who put his life on the line for freedom and justice every day, the man who braved threats and jail and beatings and who ultimately paid the highest price to make democracy a reality for all Americans." --Coretta Scott King on the MLK holiday
by Mac Walton, aka, MacDaddy
On this holiday, we won’t fly home, sit at mom’s kitchen table and eat grits, scrambled eggs and sausage-- hot sauce and butter on the grits. On this holiday, we won’t run downstairs to pull gifts out from under a tree and discover, once again, a toy too noisy, a sweater too small, a tie too bright. Hey, on this day, we won’t even get a fruitcake to feed to the birds outside our back door. No, this is a special day; and on this day we will travel to a different place, a place closer physically but perhaps far more distant spiritually than we like to admit. We will go inside ourselves to access a gift we have long ago received-- the legacy of political struggle and personal courage as exemplified in the inspirational action and prophetic words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
A gift of compassion
Once inside, once we begin to reflect, we’ll be struck immediately by Dr. King’s keen understanding of and deep compassion for those who came from a different race or class than he. This is no small feat for a Black middle-class minister from a region of the United States – the South— where intolerance toward Jews and Catholics and the use of the bible to rationalize the disenfranchisement of Blacks was an every-day affair at breakfast in small-town cafes and on dark roads at night.
Dr. King spoke of love and justice for all people, regardless of race, class or religious denomination, referring to them as “Brothers and Sisters.” He referred to his role in this work with humility, saying he was just a “drum major for justice” trying to “do God’s will.” When reporters mentioned that it was many of these same “brothers and sisters” who were trying deny justice to his people, who hurled bottles and bricks at them as they marched, he just smiled and said that America’s changing economy was leaving some "our white brothers and sisters behind." Further, he noted, this was the first generation of poor whites to realize that they would not be as well off as their parents.
A gift of faith
Dr. King left us a legacy of unwavering faith in the American republic and us, Americans. Even after being arrested over 30 times, harassed by the IRS, spied upon by the FBI, tracked for assassination by white racists, and increasingly criticized by some whites for opposing the war in Vietnam, he still clung to a basic faith in the United States of America and all of us. His basic prescription for justice was always a small dose of nonviolence and a large dose of hope.
The truth behind the faith
Those who knew Dr. King felt that this hope and faith was not just a personal prayer but a political necessity. Dr.King himself said as much. In “Where Do We Go From Here?” he wrote:
“…Revolution, though born of despair, cannot long be sustained by despair.The Negroes’ disappointment is real and is part of the daily menu of our lives. One of the agonizing problems of human experience is how to deal with disappointment.In our individual lives we all too often distill our frustration into an essence of bitterness, or drown ourselves in the deep waters of self-pity, or adopt a fatalistic philosophy that whatever happens must happen and all events are determined by necessity.
“These reactions poison the soul and scar the personality, always harming the person harboring them more than anyone else. The only healthy answer lies in one’s honest recognition of disappointment even as one clings to hope, one’s acceptance of finite disappointment even while clinging to infinite hope.”
A gift of vision
In 2009, despite the first African American president, America is beset with an economy that, though struggling, still rewards the rich and punishes the poor; a nation with 47 million uninsured, countless hungry, homeless and hopeless; and two wars abroad whose guns, planes and tanks steer much-needed resources to abroad and drain off resources to deal with our problems at home.Despite oppression at home, Dr. King was one of the first American leaders to point out this connection.
We know of his vision of Black children joining hands with White children to sing in that ole gospel hymn, “Free at last, free at last, thank god almighty, we’re free at last.” But he left us with an even more endearing vision that speaks to his belief in this country to one day be free and in those of us left behind to make it so:
Children from India will ask:
"What is hunger?"
Children from Alabama will ask:
"What is racial segregation?"
Children from Hiroshima will ask:
"What is the atomic bomb?"
Children at school will ask:
'What is war?"
You will tell them:
"Those words are not used any more.
Like stagecoaches, galleys or slavery.
They are words no longer meaningful.
That is why they have been
Removed from the dictionaries.”