Tag Archives: Martin Luther King

The conscience of an American

Birmingham_fire_hoses_1963When I was 14, my friends and I were playing at Richard’s tenement apartment in the South Bronx, and Richard’s Mom asked quietly if I would leave and get my friends to go as well.

I must have looked puzzled when I said I would because Richard’s Mom said in a whisper, “You can come back later but don’t bring Stevie.”

Stevie was black.  He was one of my friends.

It was my first encounter with racism.

This is how an individual conscience awakens to bigotry.

In the neighborhood, among us kids, we were from lower middle class families, nobody had gone past High School, not the parents, nor the kids, we were a mixed lot of Irish, Italian, Jewish, Black and Puerto Rican boys mostly.

We played stickball, sewer to sewer, hand ball, swung from the hanging ladders off the fire ‘scapes at street level, ran up and down alleys, through basements and court yards.

We were friends with unnoticed differences, who talked trash, had fist fights, but got along.

Senator Patrick Moynihan might have considered us a species of his “melting pot” but we were hardly homogenous.  We celebrated our differences while remaining companionable.

There’s a lyric in the musical, South Pacific, that “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear.”  We neither did hate nor fear. Continue reading

Not my President

John Lewis (far right) with Martin Luther King, Selma

John Lewis (far right) with Martin Luther King, Selma

Congressman John Lewis is a civil rights icon, famously known for marching in Selma with Martin Luther King, for being beaten and arrested, for having never stopped fighting for equal rights before the law for every person in America.

Congressman Lewis was asked in recent days what he thought about the imminent inauguration of the man who would be President.

Congressman Lewis declared that this man is no legitimate president, and he would not attend his “Inauguration.”

Nor shall I.

Nor will I watch or listen to a word of what this man from the golden tower on Fifth Avenue has to say at his so-called Inauguration.

But I’ll be in Washington the very next day afterwards.

I will join women from across the nation who shall protest this man’s legitimacy as President and how he hopes to mislead a nation from this nation’s promise of equal rights for all and the constitutional obligation to promote the general welfare. Continue reading

Begin the world over again

mlkMarchingTom Paine wrote that our new nation had the opportunity “to begin the world over again.”

This election year, voters seem to want to do just that – but the ratio of incomprehensible noise to common sense has been five to one.

The Reverend Martin Luther King said, “Let us be those creative dissenters who will call upon our beloved nation to a higher destiny, to a new plateau of compassion, to a more noble expression of humaneness.”

When marchers walked on Martin Luther King’s Day from the court house to the school house. the diverse community of warmly bundled marchers, were conscious that their only inconvenience was the wind and weather.

The march in Selma, Alabama, however, was conducted at some risk, and helped to win the voting rights legislation in 1965.

Selma succeeded because, as King described it, a “stubborn sheriff” acted so wrongly in handling that protest, he “stumbled against the future.”

The Reverend King was focused on what was just and fair, on equality, and the guide for his activism was the non-violence of Jesus and of Gandhi.

After Selma, King said that, “Occasionally in life one develops a conviction so precious and meaningful that he will stand on it till the end. That is what I have found in nonviolence.”

Anticipating his own death, King said in the Ebenezer Church in Atlanta, that he identified with those who were poor and hungry and, “[i]f it means dying for them, I’m going that way, because I heard a voice say, ‘Do something for others.’”

The challenge for our nation, in his mind, was human rights. Continue reading

A King who cared for labor

Labor marching to honor Martin Luther King in 2015 (photo by JPF)

Labor marching to honor Martin Luther King in 2015 (photo by JPF)

The Reverend Martin Luther King compared himself to Moses who led his people out of slavery, saw the Promised Land, but never got there himself.

In April of 1968, Martin Luther King was in Memphis, Tennessee supporting a garbage workers’ strike. Dr. King cared about workers.

On the evening of April 3rd, Dr. King told the congregation, “I don’t know what will happen now.” He said he’d “been to the mountain top” and “seen the Promised Land” but “I may not get there with you.”

His promise, however, was that “we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”

Toward evening, that next day, April 4th, King stepped out on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee.

A rifleman shot a .30-06 caliber bullet that broke Dr. King’s jaw, cut through his neck and spinal cord, and the slug lay spent in his shoulder blade. King died.

Robert Kennedy said in Indianapolis to a crowd that had not yet heard of King’s death that we must “tame the savageness of man and to make gentle the life of this world.”

We have an annual March in Loudoun County to honor Martin Luther King. Savageness, however, still abides in the body politic. Continue reading

Replace that Confederate statue!

“I may not get there with you,” Martin Luther King.

“I may not get there with you,” Martin Luther King.

In 1908, there was a statue erected of a confederate soldier, rifle drawn, standing vigil before the Loudoun County courthouse, as if an armed sentry demanding that any person approaching the court must first seek permission to proceed any further.

No one asks why this statue was not erected sooner than 40 years after the Civil War.

No one is curious why the citizens didn’t forge a statue of a Union and Confederate soldier standing side by side, at peace, weapons at rest, given that Loudoun County had civil war combatants on both sides of that divisive struggle.

It’s because this statue was never intended to bring us together.

Consider the historical context in Virginia after the Civil War.

In 1868, a Richmond editorial praised the KKK for “not permit[ting] the people of the South to become the victims of negro rule.”

Even the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution, granting Black men the right to vote, did not prove an effective remedy.

Racial segregation appeared and persisted. A white dominated political system established itself throughout Virginia. From 1880 to 1930, mobs in Virginia executed seventy blacks.

In 1890, a local Hamilton contingent of blacks formed the Loudoun County Emancipation Association “to work for the betterment of the race – educationally, morally and materially.”

In 1896, the Supreme Court shored up segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson pronouncing that “separate” was just fine for Blacks.

In 1902, the hateful Klan was summoned back into service. Thomas Dixon, Jr., a fiction writer, favoring white supremacy, told the nation that the Klan was an heroic force. The Virginia Constitution was amended to limit the voting rights of Blacks, by requiring screened interviews in order to vote and imposing a poll tax. The number of black voters in Virginia declined from 147,000 in 1902 to less than 10,000 by 1904. Continue reading

We’ve got to do better

MLK: “Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”

MLK: “Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”

There’s a big difference between condemning religious fanatics slaughtering a dozen unarmed political French cartoonists for satirizing the prophet Mohammed, and endorsing the content of their satirical expression that is plainly offensive to the non-violent Muslim faithful.

It’s a corollary of free speech that coercion against anyone based on what they express by cartoons, prose, or the spoken word is a fundamental violation of “free” speech.

On the other hand, there is hardly anything more destructive of comity in a world so ready to war, than the express or implicit endorsement of satirical disrespect for the founder and prophet of any religion.

Some say: “What does it matter what they publish?”

Since when have we endorsed freedom without responsibility?

How many are comfortable with disrespectful satirical attacks against their own religions and distasteful remarks that may include Krishna, Zoroaster, Abraham, Moses, Lao-Tsu, Buddha, Confucius, Jesus, Martin Luther, John Calvin, George Fox, John Huss, John Wesley, Swedenborg, the Bab, Baha’u’llah, Brigham Young, Mary Baker Eddy, Joseph Smith, or Gandhi?

One million magazines containing these disrespectful images were sold following this grisly slaughter.

We convened a million person march in Paris to protest killings calculated to still freedom of speech but we’re apparently unable to parse the separate question, whether we approve of disrespect against those religious having nothing to do with the killings.

Nor is this just about timing.

There should be some cultural and personal standards of conduct that are sensitive to a non-believer’s disrespect.

Is this offense, making light of a religious leader, and a prophet, anything like the throwback who just has to use the offensive racist N-word?

I think so.  Continue reading

Jimmie Lee Jackson

Jimmie Lee JacksonJimmie Lee Jackson, 26 years old, unarmed, and black, was shot in the stomach and beaten by State Trooper James Bonard Fowler, at Mack’s Cafe, in Marion, Alabama, because Jimmie Lee had protested for the right to vote; Jimmie Lee lived a week.

Trooper Fowler was not charged with any crime, and said Jimmie Lee tried to take his pistol.  But that’s not what happened.

We heard something just like this from Officer Wilson when he recently killed an unarmed teenager, Mike Brown, in Ferguson.

Jimmie Lee, however, wasn’t murdered recently.  His cold-blooded murder occurred fifty years ago and became the catalyst for an historic protest march in Selma, Alabama.

On February 18, 1965, Jimmie Lee was in an earlier march objecting that Blacks were denied their right to vote.

Jimmie Lee, a service veteran, a church deacon, a father and a laborer, marched with his mother, sister, 82-year-old grandfather, and several hundred protesters.  Local police and state troopers attacked.  Jimmie Lee and his family ran for their lives, and thought they’d found cover in Mack’s Café.  The troopers charged into the café, like a lawless gang, beating people including Jimmie Lee’s Mom.  Jimmie Lee fought to protect her.  Trooper Fowler shot Jimmie Lee in the stomach.  Troopers chased the wounded Jimmie Lee out of the café into the street and continued to beat him, stopping only when he went unconscious.

The Reverend Martin Luther King visited Jimmie Lee at the hospital.  Upon Jimmie Lee’s death, he said: “We must be concerned not merely about who murdered him but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderer.”  These words unfortunately still have significance today.

At Jimmie Lee’s funeral, the Reverend King said: “he was murdered by the brutality of every Sheriff who practices lawlessness in the name of law.”  Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani might well have said that the Reverend King’s words were expressions of hate toward law enforcement.  

King also said that Jimmie Lee “was murdered by the irresponsibility of every politician, from governors on down, who has fed his constituents the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism.” Continue reading

The Promised Land

 

Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Reverend Martin Luther King compared himself to Moses who led his people out of slavery, saw the Promised Land, but never got there himself.

In April of 1968, Martin Luther King was in Memphis, Tennessee supporting a garbage workers’ strike.

On the evening of April 3rd, King told the congregation, “I don’t know what will happen now.”  He said he’d “been to the mountain top”   and “seen the Promised Land” but “I may not get there with you.”

His promise, however, was that “we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”

Toward evening, that next day, April 4th, King stepped out on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee.

A rifleman shot a .30-06 caliber bullet that broke Dr. King’s jaw, cut through his neck and spinal cord, and the slug lay spent in his shoulder blade.  King died.

Robert Kennedy said in Indianapolis to a crowd that had not yet heard of King’s death that we must “tame the savageness of man and to make gentle the life of this world.”

King couldn’t have agreed more and his prescription to reach the Promised Land was to challenge “the triple evils of racism, economic exploitation, and militarism.”

We know today that the Supreme Court decision in Dred Scott, deciding that a man was property, was wrong.

But we don’t’ seem to appreciate that a Supreme Court that compromises voting rights is also wrong. Continue reading