On Jan. 15, Martin Luther King Jr. would have celebrated his 85th birthday.
Forty-six years ago in April, he was assassinated.
And this last Monday, we as a nation celebrated the man and the legacy he left behind.
While King was just one of many who led the movement for the equality of black Americans, he is certainly one of the most remembered.
While I can only imagine, I am sure a lot of you can remember vividly the ’60s. And while King’s work began well before the ’60s, it is the era where the Civil Rights Movement showed real progress, but it was a time of social protest and turbulence like our society has not seen since. It was also a time where a lot of those who took a stand paid with their lives.
King, a minister and leader of the Civil Rights Movement and 1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner, among other distinctions, was assassinated in April 1968, struck down by a bullet fired by accused James Earl Ray in Memphis, Tenn. as King stood on the balcony of the motel where he was staying.
He left behind a wife, four children, and a legacy that few others in all of history have accomplished.
I can’t help but think of the times then, the social climate that was still more than reluctant to accept a black person on any other level than being a black person and just different in all the wrong ways from a white person.
While laws are in place now, while a black person is lawfully protected just as every other person is, the atrocities have not completely subsided. But, progress has been made and in no small part due to the efforts of King.
The ’60s saw social equality progress with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, both of which brought about the end of the Jim Crow Laws which had endured since the 1870s. But the ’60s also saw our nation embattled in a war that was not to be called a war and a society that, at least eventually, thought we ought not to be there in Vietnam. The decade saw many things, a lot of violent and unconscionable things.
This era saw student-led sit-ins against segregation, the desegregation of colleges beginning with James Meredith’s U.S. Marshall-aided entrance into the University of Mississippi, marches, protests, and more than a fair share of murders.
In September 1963, while the words of King were still fresh from his late-August speech at the March on Washington, a Birmingham, Ala. church was bombed, killing four young black girls, an act later associated with the Ku Klux Klan.
Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers was assassinated in 1963. In 1965, well-known human rights activist Malcom X was gunned down. But the atrocities suffered by blacks, mostly in the South, are far too numerous to contain in these paragraphs. We all know they happened. We all know why they happened.
Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, where King delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech.
While King delivered hundreds of speeches and sermons, it is the above speech that has resonated through the decades and come to embody how we see the Civil Rights Movement.
My mind has been on such things apart from my own history, but more centered on the history of us as a whole, you, me, the check-out lady, and the mechanic that works on my car. You know, all of us.
Our country certainly has a rich history, one built on great tragedies and triumphs and periods of turbulence and peace.
It all ebbs and flows, such as life does.
But, like with any significant anniversary or a day set aside to honor someone like King, for days following it is always more present in the mind and in the thoughts, don’t you think?
As I have written before, I have never suffered iniquities, at least not that I am aware of, which right there is enough to say that I have not suffered iniquities or injustice.
So many have suffered greatly at the hands of others and while the treatment of every different sort of race and religion has suffered at the hands of others in our country, it is the blacks in our country and their treatment that is most notable.
I have always been raised to see a person for who they are; not to base my impressions on their job, their wealth, and least of all on how they look. I suppose that has a lot to do with geography though, too.
I am a white girl from the Midwest and about as far from discrimination, any real sort of it anyway, as I am from building a spaceship over the weekend and flying myself to the moon. Which is to imply that I am not the technical or mechanical sort, so me building a rocket ship is as near to impossible as impossible can get. The thing is, Monday was about remembering the strides that have been made by those like King, the effort, the hard work and frustration endured. A life constantly in danger.
Who of us would be willing to fight so diligently, despite the hardships and the dangers? Of course, to be a black person in the south in the ’60s was a hardship and a danger in itself.
“Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children,” King said in his 1963 speech given at the March on Washington. And later, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. I have a dream …”
And the last part of the speech … “When we allow freedom to ring – when we let it ring from every city and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, Free at last, Free at last, Great God a-mighty, We are free at last.”
Things today are not so corrected, so safe as to assume that we can, all of us, sing those words and mean what King meant, that we are free from the persecutions from one another for our differentness. The injustices of the past have created present day injustices that have perpetuated the disenfranchisement of various people. And those who are just hell bent on recognizing in a negative manner what I see as a beautiful diversity here in our country will have a target no matter what.
It is easy for me to say that things are better. I was not there and I have always been a white girl from the Midwest who has never suffered beyond my own, at times childish, imaginings.
But, think about where we are now in the context of where we have been. That makes all the difference.
Angela Shepherd can be reached at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @ashepherdHTG.