Monday, January 17, 2011

In Honor of Martin Luther King Jr.

My roots and Southern soil are irrevocably entwined. Atlanta is where my mom was born, seven years before Martin Luther King Jr. came into the world in that same city, which has grown so wide since those days. I never saw the strange fruit on the trees but the ghosts of it were around. I think they're still around, glimpses, hints, muffled sounds.
But today, I want to express my gratitude, from that girl from the South, and from this woman and mother, now in the North, to Martin Luther King Jr. and all those who marched with him, and all whose shoulders they stood upon.

The sound of Martin Luther King's voice made me feel proud and at home, a well-educated Black man speaking with the cadence, the intelligence and the intensity of my People. His eyes, those striking deep black pools, could envision the bold, the need for justice to keep rising up to find its place, to insist. His eyes, onyx gems, could witness the brutality and offer his vulnerability as strength. With his voice, his vision and his actions he inspired others to bring forward their power to resist injustice, to use what they had, their feet, their bodies. I didn't like that he led people into being beaten. Malcolm's stance appealed to me much more, yet I respected King for his unwillingness to wait and his courage.

They are faceless, the women and men who walked miles to work day in and out, refusing a degrading bus ride. But because of them, I ride Metro North and no white person can tell me to give up my seat when the crowded train does not afford them one. I thank those Montgomery elders. I thank everyone who walked in fear, in terror, holding onto each other and faith in bringing about change, Black and White. But I am especially indebted to the Blacks because for the most part they lived in that Southern belly, and most of the Whites came from elsewhere. They could leave, though Goodman, Schwerner, and Viola did not. But the local Blacks who marched had to keep breathing through the terror that went on after the marching and voter registration. Sadly, the names of those Birmingham girls bombed to death are not committed to memory even though Spike has remembered them in film. But I thank them and their families for the sacrifice they did not offer but made. To Emmett and his mother, who insisted the world see what happened to her son, I say the same.

I thank all those who surrounded Martin Luther King, his inner circle of Jessie, Andrew, Ralph, Coretta, John and any others who held him up. I thank all those who lost jobs, their minds, their lives in the face of the Civil Rights movement, and their descendants who bear this legacy.

At the time of his murder, Martin Luther King had begun to broaden his focus to challenge economic injustice and war in addition to racial oppression. In one of his not well-known speeches he began to conceive of ghettos as colonies. He had to die. But I thank you Martin for standing up and aspiring to bring living at the highest level of humanity into being.

1 comment:

  1. I too thank Dr. King and all the soldiers of his era for asking for so little while giving so much. I was a NIH predoctoral research fellow at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland when the Birmingham girls and Dr. King were killed. Trucks filled with national guardsmen drove past my apartment during some of the activities that followed. I wanted to leave graduate school and participate. I didn't think it was right for me to expect to benefit from the sacrifices of others and not be a contributor. Donald Freeman, a school teacher in Cleveland was an active participant in the activities of the time. He would make phone calls from my apartment because he was certain that his phone was tapped. He said NO to me quitting school. He also lost his job. He said that I and others in the preparatory phase must continue to prepare and be ready to take advantage of the opportunities for which they were fighting. It pains me now to see anyone squander or shun an opportunity to prepare themselves to take advantage of the fruits produced as a result of the blood, sweat, tears and lives lost by Dr. King and fellow soldiers.
    I thank you Dee for so skillfully articulating the essence of Dr. King's message.