Tuesday, January 22, 2008


The media took yesterday to observe Martin Luther King Day. J. A. Andande follows the Portland Trailblazers around Atlanta and marvels at the size of the young Martin's allowance, in a nice piece here. Two years ago, I read America in the King Years, Taylor Branch's monumental history of the Civil Rights movement and its impact on the country at large. I came away convinced that Martin Luther King was the Man of the Century. His vision for America, his commitment to action, his steadfast belief in the powers of love and nonviolence remain a great shining beacon for the world, showing us the path to freedom if only we'd follow it.

My family moved to South Texas in August 1967 from Columbus, Ohio. We had never lived west of Columbus or south of Washington, D.C. I spent the tumultuous, critical year of 1968 (tumultuous and critical for me, too, because I turned 13) adjusting to a climate and culture that might as well have been Martian for all the relevance my previous life had to present circumstances. I knew who the Reverend King was, knew that my parents' supported him, and had the sheltered northerner's certainty that everyone felt that way.

So I was unprepared to discover the shocked, pained expressions on the faces of the black kids unreflected on those of the whites. Mutterings that the Reverend King "had it coming" and that he should have kept his mouth shut stunned me. I had never heard anyone -- much less 13-15 year old kids -- take such satisfaction in the death of any human being, much less one like Martin Luther King. Then I overheard a teacher agreeing with a group of white kids while telling them to keep quiet about it. That's when it really hit: Adults felt that way. Not characters from To Kill A Mockingbird, but flesh-and-blood intelligent adults who knew better. Or who ought to have. I don't suppose that I ever felt the same about the adult world after that.

Subsequent revelations about Martin Luther King's personal life failed to diminish his achievements and hopes. They simply showed that he was a person with failings and weaknesses, just like the rest of us. He had his moments of doubt, but when the cup came he drank from it. He drank deep. That's the most anyone can ask of themselves. It was America's great fortune that Martin Luther King had that kind of courage.


Renegade Eye said...

The leadership vacuum in the Afro-American community after he and Malcolm X, were killed is seen today. Those were not leaders interested in being on television or running for office as Democrats.

Premium T. said...

This is some powerful writing.