Forty years since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. As you might guess, I’ve been encouraged by his words and his actions for more than four decades.
The night before his death Dr. King observed a nation in distress:
The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land. Confusion all around. That’s a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars.
He rejected the quelling of dissent:
All we say to America is, “Be true to what you said on paper.” If I lived in China or even Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges, because they hadn’t committed themselves to that over there. But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of the press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right. And so just as I say, we aren’t going to let any injunction turn us around. We are going on.
But, in the end, he was silenced.
Though it seems we’ve come a long way from the days of Crow, recent reminders, like the racist subtext flowing through the local blog-o-sphere after Eve Carson’s murder or the continued government supported gentrification of Chapel Hill demonstrates how far we’ve yet to go…
What would Martin make of our world today? Principled dissent is no longer an American bedrock principle. Surveillance, wiretapping, water boarding part of our everyday experience. “Incarceration over education” ( 1 in 9 young black males according to the recent Pew report), poverty surging and a war even more ridiculously off-kilter than Vietnam ever was…
Martin said that night (I’ve been to the mountaintop) that we should “develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness”, to help folks not questioning “If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?” but rather “If I do no stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?” That’s the question.
That is the question, as ever, before us this tragic fortieth anniversary.