Tag Archives: MLK Jr.

Another icon passes from scene

Americans have been yanked into a long-held reality with the deaths of African-American men at the hands of police officers, which is that justice too often is applied unevenly in this country.

So now, here we are. The nation is mourning a giant of a great cause to bring equal justice, equal rights to all citizens. John Lewis has died of pancreatic cancer. He was 80 years of age.

U.S. Rep. Lewis comes from an era of great struggle. It was a violent time and Lewis, tragically, was the victim of that violence. Police in Alabama beat Lewis to a pulp as he marched along with other black citizens for equal rights. He recovered. Lewis continued to stand tall alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young and other activists of the time seeking justice and liberty for all Americans … regardless of their racial makeup.

“He loved this country so much that he risked his life and his blood so that it might live up to its promise,” former President Barack Obama wrote in his statement. “And through the decades, he not only gave all of himself to the cause of freedom and justice but inspired generations that followed to try to live up to his example.”

Lewis took his struggle to the floor of the U.S. House, where he served with honor representing the people of Georgia as a Democratic congressman.

Andrew Young also rose to prominence as well, becoming U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and mayor of Atlanta. He spoke today of his friend’s death and the belief that despite the deaths of so many great civil rights icons, their work and their legacies live on.

The live through their spirit that remains among us, Young said.

So it will be as the nation gets past its time of mourning the death of a real-life, authentic American hero.

Rest in peace, Rep. Lewis. You have done well, but the hard work will continue in your memory.

Nation needs this kind of wisdom

The United States of America is in crisis. We have been through this before, in other contexts. However, we are lacking the kind of wisdom that comes from the top of our political leadership that we have heard during previous crises.

The Dallas Morning News today published an editorial calling for such wisdom as we grapple with issues relating to police brutality and racial injustice. The newspaper cited a speech given by Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, at that moment a candidate for president, in the hours after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was felled by an assassin.

RFK said this:

“In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it is perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in. For those of you who are black — considering the evidence there evidently is that there were white people who were responsible — you can be filled with bitterness, with hatred, and a desire for revenge. We can move in that direction as a country, in great polarization — black people amongst black, white people amongst white, filled with hatred toward one another.

“Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and to replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand with compassion and love.

“For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and distrust at the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I can only say that I feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man. But we have to make an effort in the United States, we have to make an effort to understand, to go beyond these rather difficult times.

“My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He wrote: ‘In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.’

“What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black.

“So I shall ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King, that’s true, but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love — a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke.

“We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times; we’ve had difficult times in the past; we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; it is not the end of disorder.

“But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings who abide in our land.

“Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.

“Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.”

Sen. Kennedy spoke those words to a crowd of African-Americans gathered for a political rally in Indianapolis, Ind. While many cities in the land erupted in violence that evening, Indianapolis remained calm. Why? Because citizens were somehow assured that at least one political leader was listening to them and he cared about them.

A gunman would still RFK’s voice forever just two months later.

We are made poorer as a result. We need that kind of wisdom in this moment of grief.

Time of My Life, Part 29: Welcome to the politics of race

Thirty-five years ago this week I began an amazing lesson in life and in the pursuit of my chosen craft. It marked my introduction to the politics of race and how some folks frame their public policy views on that basis.

I moved from a white-bread suburban community to a community that was — and still is — divided sharply along racial lines. Gladstone, Ore., is a nice town of about 15,000 residents. Beaumont, Texas, also is a wonderful community of about 120,000 residents. Gladstone is the white-bread town; Beaumont is divided roughly into equal parts white and black residents.

The week I arrived in Beaumont in early April 1984 to become an editorial writer for the Beaumont Enterprise was the week of a pivotal school board election. The federal courts had ordered the public school system to desegregate. Two school districts merged into one; one of the districts was mostly white, the other was mostly black. Voters had to elect a new school board that would govern the combined district.

That election also featured a referendum on whether to rename a major thoroughfare after the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. While many communities had honored Dr. King in such a manner, Beaumont had not yet taken that leap.

How did the election turn out? Voters elected a new school board that comprised an African-American majority among trustees; voters also narrowly rejected the street-naming referendum.

Talk about sending mixed message! Talk about the widest range of political emotion possible!

White residents were — by and large — filled with anxiety over the school board election results, while generally applauding the result of the street-naming measure. Black residents were thrilled to have elected a school board of mostly black trustees, while generally cursing the result of the MLK Jr. referendum.

I felt it daily. I heard it daily. I had little professional experience dealing with the politics of race. Yes, I had served in the Army with African-American soldiers, so I had grown to understand this basic act: We’re all human beings whose blood is precisely the same color. My introduction to the politics of race, though, told me how differently people of differing racial makeup view the world.

I grew quickly to understand those differences, although quite obviously I could not change my own racial makeup or tell my African-American neighbors that “I know how you feel.” Quite clearly, I did not know.

It all enlightened and educated me greatly. I believe I grew up significantly as I became more comfortable while learning about racial politics in my new community.

Here’s a punchline. Years later, the Beaumont City Council — virtually without warning — decided to rename a spur that runs north-south through the city after Dr. King. It acted while the city’s local black leadership was out of town attending an NAACP conference. The local NAACP president hit the ceiling. He was enraged. The mostly white City Council stuck to its decision.

The newly named Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway, I want to add, has been transformed into a beautiful thoroughfare. Beaumont’s black residents wanted to rename an established thoroughfare after Dr. King. They didn’t get their wish. They got something better.

We had departed Beaumont for the Texas Panhandle, so we didn’t get to witness the completion of the MLK Jr. Parkway. We have returned on occasion over the years. It’s a wonderful tribute to a great American.

Bill Cosby: He’s no Mandela, MLK Jr. or Gandhi

I don’t usually comment on convicted criminals, but I cannot let this issue pass without offering a brief response.

Bill Cosby, the formerly revered comedian and actor, is now a convicted sexual assailant. A jury convicted him of sexually assaulting a woman. He’s now spending three to 10 years in prison.

But now he says he doesn’t feel remorse because he is a “political prisoner,” in the mold of Nelson Mandela, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi.

No, he isn’t.

Hmm. Mandela was held on Robben Island for 27 years because he protested apartheid in South Africa; Dr. King was held in jail because he opposed oppression of African-Americans in the United States; Gandhi was imprisoned because he wanted independence for India.

Yep, those great men were political prisoners.

Bill Cosby is in the slammer because he was convicted of sexual assault. There is absolutely zero moral equivalence between what he did and why the men to whom he compares himself were denied their freedom.

Be quiet, Mr. Cosby, and do your time.

‘I Have a Dream’ took off when Dr. King ad-libbed

Banks, schools and other government buildings closed today as the nation commemorated the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The great man’s impact on our nation during his brief life of just 39 years on Earth is well-known and thoroughly chronicled. I won’t slog through his titanic legacy of his non-violent quest for civil rights for all of humanity.

The video I have attached to this blog post is of his greatest speech, which he delivered in August 1963 in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Two astonishing aspects of that speech are worth noting today.

One is that Dr. King was 34 years of age when he electrified the nation with his remarks overlooking the Washington Mall.

Thirty-four!

The tenderness of the great man’s age is astonishing. I am trying to grasp how someone so young could keep his composure in front of such a gigantic gathering of listeners.

Now for the cool part of that speech.

The aspect of Dr. King’s remarks we all quote today was not prepared. He didn’t read them from a sheet of paper with text on it.

The “I Have a Dream” portion of the oratory was delivered extemporaneously. He ad-libbed it!

It’s been reported over the years that the late gospel singer Mahalia Jackson exhorted Dr. King from the podium by urging him to “tell them about the dream, Martin.”

So . . . he did.

The rest, as they say, is history — and what a history he wrote!

1968: It ended with profound discovery

Those of us of a certain age and older remember 1968.

As we were living through it many of us wondered if we could survive, literally, and wondered if the nation could endure the tumult that tore at its soul.

The year began with that terrible Tet Offensive in Vietnam, where we were fighting a war that killed thousands of American service personnel that year. Two iconic figures, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, died at the hands of assassins. The Democratic Party nominated a presidential candidate while thousands of people rioted in the streets outside.

Then in December of that terrible year, three men launched from Earth toward the moon, produced the image I have posted on this blog. They read from the Book of Genesis while orbiting the moon’s surface.

These men — Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and William Anders — reminded us of the fragility of our existence and produced a never-before-seen image of our “good Earth,” as Apollo astronaut mission commander Borman described it in his Christmas message back home.

The Apollo 8 moon mission was more than just a competitive event between the United States and the Soviet Union. President Kennedy in 1961 had declared that we should “send a man to the moon and return him safely to the Earth” before the end of the 1960s. We would accomplish that mission in 1969, beating the Soviets in that race to the moon.

Before that, though, we had to send a space ship to the moon to orbit it and to return. Little could we have foreseen the symbolism embodied in that mission at the end of a terrible, tumultuous year.

It could not have ended more perfectly than it did just before Christmas 1968. It could not have been a more apt remedy to help restore some semblance of hope in the face of the mayhem that gripped the nation and the world.

The mission was, shall we say, one for the ages.

Those three men saw fit to read from the Holy Bible about God’s creation of the universe. The words from Genesis served to remind us that the Almighty was looking after us.

The year began and progressed through storm after storm.It ended with the image flashed around the world for the first time ever of Earth rising in the black sky all by itself.

It is our home. Turmoil and all.

Happy 93rd birthday, RFK

Robert F. Kennedy would have turned 93 today.

The late U.S. attorney general and U.S. senator from New York died 50 years ago at the hands of an assassin who shot him in a Los Angeles hotel kitchen after Bobby Kennedy had just won the California Democratic Party presidential primary.

He was 42 years of age when he died.

I have grieved ever since over that loss.

RFK was my first political hero, although I don’t like using the h-word when talking about politicians. They aren’t heroic figures any more than athletes are heroes.

I did admire him greatly.

But to think on this day that a young, ambitious politician died at an age that is younger than the younger of my two sons fills me with an odd sense of my own mortality.

We need a politician like RFK among us today. We are a nation divided by race, by social status, by partisan politics. Bobby Kennedy sought to elevate us above the divisions that ravaged the nation when he sought the presidency in 1968, that most turbulent of years.

It was Bobby who climbed aboard that flatbed truck in Indianapolis on April 4, 1968 and informed the crowd of mostly black supporters that “Martin Luther King was shot and killed.” The crowd gasped in horror. RFK then went on to call for “love” and “compassion for one another.”

As other major U.S. cities erupted in violence that night, Indianapolis remained calm.

I don’t know whether Robert Francis Kennedy would have attained the highest office in America had death not taken him that night. My heart tells me there was a path to the Democratic nomination and to election. But … that must remain for others’ speculation.

The nation lost a champion for humanity five decades ago.

Today, though, I want to salute the fellow who entered this world 93 years ago today and embarked on a too-brief journey in a quest to heal the wounds that harmed us.

Happy birthday, Bobby. Many millions of us still miss you.

Election Day deserves to be a national holiday

We’re going to vote in a few days for all the members of the U.S. House of Representatives and one-third of the U.S. Senate. Each state will have elections, too, to select governors, assorted statewide officeholders, on down to the legislative and county level.

I’ve kicked this idea around in my noggin, but I now believe we need to make Election Day a national holiday. Give our citizens the day off from work. Allow them to spend the day doing whatever they do on their days off, but also allow them to perform our society’s most essential form of political expression.

I don’t believe we need to move Election Day; it should remain on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. I don’t want it moved to the first Monday, creating yet another three-day weekend for citizens to spend out of town and enticing them to stay away on Monday, when they should be voting.

Keeping it on Tuesday sandwiches Election Day between two working/school days. It helps ensure citizens are at home for this big event.

We bemoan the lack of voter turnout. Americans who don’t vote can’t get away for a number of reasons. Their jobs comprise part of the rationale for non-voting American citizens. “My job keeps me from going to the polls,” they might say. A national holiday fixes that problem. Hey, we have declared national holidays to honor our presidents, Christopher Columbus, our veterans, those who have died in battle, the creation of our nation, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., working men and women. These all are noble causes and worthy of honor.

Why isn’t the election of our national, state and local leaders worthy as well?

I believe it is. We should set that day aside every two years — for the midterm and for the presidential elections — to give Americans plenty of time during the day to perform this simple, but essential task of citizenship.

There actually was a time when we were more divided

These 50-year commemorations keep sneaking up on me.

One of them, Aug. 29, 1968, occurred in Grant Park, Chicago, during that year’s Democratic National Presidential Nominating Convention.

Democrats nominated Vice President Hubert Humphrey to run against Republican nominee Richard Nixon. Humphrey lost the election narrowly to Nixon.

HHH’s political fate likely was sealed in Grant Park, when Chicago police applied brute force to put down a riot being staged by hippies, Yippies and assorted other anti-Vietnam War protesters. It was an ugly night of violence.

I was about a week into my own duty in the Army. I would head to Vietnam the following spring. But, oh, I do remember that political year. My first political hero, Sen. Robert Kennedy, was gunned down in the Los Angeles hotel kitchen after winning the California Democratic presidential primary. RFK’s death came two months and a day after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot to death at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn.

I want to take particular note here to remind us that no matter how divided we are today, it could actually be worse. The Grant Park riot 50 years ago today tells me just how deep and wide the chasm can get.

I do fear that we might be headed in that direction five decades later. If we get there, then we’d all better prepare for the worst.

MLK Jr. changed so much in so little time

Martin Luther King Jr. walked this Earth for only 39 years.

Then it ended. It was 50 years ago. A single rifle shot struck down the great man.

We are going to see a lot of tributes to Dr. King in the next day or two … or maybe beyond as the nation reignites its grief over this monumental loss.

I’ll watch them and wonder: How in the name of soaring rhetoric does someone so young speak with such wisdom? Dr. King did that. He spoke to all Americans on behalf of “my people.” He told us about that dream he had, of how “little black children” would one day walk with “little white children,” how his own children would be judged only by the “content of their character.”

Do you remember the August 1963 speech, his “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered to hundreds of thousands of people on the Washington, D.C. Mall? He was less than five years away from his own death. He also was just 34 years of age when he stirred our souls.

He led a non-violent movement. He preached “civil disobedience” in the strictest definition of the term. Those who marched with him paid heavy prices in blood, sadly. Dr. King himself spent time in jail, where he penned even more words of wisdom that will live for the ages.

I want to add a disturbing note to this tribute to Dr. King, and it has next to nothing to do with the great man himself.

It is that the individual who changed history with a rifle shot at that Memphis, Tenn., motel balcony was just another in a big crowd of losers. James Earl Ray would die in prison. The hateful, spiteful individual sought notoriety. Damn, he got it!

The 50-year commemorations no doubt are going to wonder: What if Martin Luther King Jr. had lived? Would we be a different nation today? I am not smart or prescient enough to know with certainty, but I believe Dr. King could have shaped the national discussion toward achieving “a more perfect Union.”

The ultimate tragedy — beyond the obvious grief that came to one man’s family and the nation he sought to inspire — is that we cannot know the path we would have taken had Dr. King been allowed more than just 39 years.