For Whom Did King Dream
Last week was Reverend (Dr.) Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, on January 15th. There wasn’t much fanfare to be found, not on the television, not on the Internet and any of its vast social media networks, nor much in the print medium of newspapers for the day. Oh, but on the obligatory, observed holiday of the third Monday in January, here came the media, remembrances and posts from around the world. Not to be snide, no other American has a holiday solely in his or her name except Dr. King; however, the honors seems so short-lived when the “practice” of the message is but one day a year.
Someone I have a lot of respect for as a person and professional journalist, posted a link on Facebook yesterday to a story by another journalist from August 2011 about Dr. King, so I naturally followed the link, read the story, and wondered, “what the hell?” The journalist’s attempt at a succinct thesis about what Dr. King really did and for whom he did it was more than a bit divisive to me. According to the article’s author, MLK had his main impact on African-Americans only, not white America or others. While I agree with his premise that it was the ending of the terrorism in the South and not mere Acts (laws) and ending of other practices that brought about realizations of the Dream, to assert that Dr. King’s works impacted African-Americans mainly or only is narrow-minded partly, but also, an insult to his work, in my opinion.
I was born in 1969. My first introduction or knowledge of MLK is likely, I honestly don’t remember, a video of his August 28, 1963 speech in Washington D.C. However, I became immensely intrigued by Dr. King and have read him throughout my life at various stages for a variety of reasons. I found his theological sermons exceptionally ecumenical in their reach, I found his political articles reasoned in their arguments, and I found his work empowering to those downtrodden and educational to those dumbfounded. Yes, there can be little doubt that his work, the programs, laws, and changes that came as a result, effected mostly African-Americans. However. many people of color were equally empowered; for example, maybe Colin Powell’s parents who are from Jamaica, benefitted, and therefore he would have too, despite not being African-American. Further, many white people also became educated and empowered when Dr. King began to bring international attention to the terror that existed in America’s South during this era. The education aspect is easy to see maybe, so let me expound just a few lines on the empowerment.
Let me back up and clarify, much like myself and this entry, the article I am referring to, was more of a self-proclaimed diarist. Seeing posted on Huffington Post though, I chose to treat him and it (the journal entry) more scholarly. Beginning a 2,000+ word article with a disclaimer that it’s a short diary entry, therefore not worth the time, effort, validity of scholarly references of a narrow topic on a personal, subjective viewpoint, immediately humors my skeptical bone. Again, over 2,000 words short. Finally, I get a little aggravated when a post-secondary graduate still doesn’t seem to realize that history takes tremendously longer to play out than a few bullet comments on a study sheet in Western Civilization II for a few hours a week, for some forsaken length of time like an entire semester! History happens when it happens for as long as it happens. For example, there are a few events between Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on December 01, 1955, Dr. King’s speech in 1963 and his assassination in 1968.
While initially a reluctant participant, Dr. King, once committed to the act, helped stage the Montgomery Bus Boycott that would last 381 days, until December 20, 1956, and would have lasting impacts across the nation and around the world. Yes, it was staged. Yes, it lasted over a year. Yes, it positively had encouraging impact on people of all ethnicities, races, and backgrounds. That’s empowering and it wasn’t limited to African-Americans. However, limiting it to one race is divisive, counter-productive and antithetical to Dr. King’s dream.
I believe the diarist, or anyone else for that matter, would be hard pressed to get former Member of Congress John Lewis (D-GA) to agree that the combined efforts of many ethnicities, races and cultures showed the world that citizens of these United States were willing to work together under a unified banner of non-violence. As an original member of the Freedom Riders that rode from Washington D.C. in 1961 to New Orleans through heavily segregated parts of the South where racial segregation was openly practiced, was the law in many cases, and back up in many more even if it wasn’t, Congressman Lewis, would tell you that the buses were purposefully integrated. Further, when the buses were attacked, underwent firebombing, or riders were arrested, there was no racial distinctions made, it was truly, all for one. I watched the last anniversary of the Freedom Riders in New Orleans and I listened to Mr. Lewis make this very point. It was not a token move. It was an MLK moment. Dr. King continually reached; dreamers tend to do that. Those buses would not have been on the road, would not have been full, would not have had multi-cultural support, and would not have reached their destinations without Dr. King’s messages reaching many more people than African-Americans.
Yes, the terror that mostly ended is a huge accomplishment of Dr. King’s dream. However, to limit the dream to one aspect of one race or culture though is exactly antithetical of the Dream, in my opinion. Dr. King awakened the passions, humanity, morality, and the better natures of those who listened and read him generally. I don’t believe he wrote to only one audience nor do I think he wrote with only one audience’s benefit in mind.
I don’t fault this young diarist for coming up short sighted in a subjective view of Dr. King’s work. Maybe, as the kind reverend might say, he is just tragically blind. For me, I’ll keep living the dream.