4 April 2018.
I cannot remember where I was or what I was doing when I heard the news that the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., had been killed.
Certainly I am old enough to remember. I recall with horrific clarity the elementary school classroom where I sat when news came of President Kennedy's death in Dallas, and the crackling of my transistor radio, tucked under my pillow, when I startled awake to voices reporting the late night murder of the presidential hopeful so many of us felt close enough to called Bobby, two months after the assassination of Dr. King.
I have long surmised that the death of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., a towering figure in human rights, peace and justice, so deeply traumatized me that I wiped the details from my mind.
In the aftermath, my mother wept and wept, my father was grim-faced and silent, my siblings, my friends and I were stunned and shaken to the core.
This country – indeed, this world – simply could not afford to lose Martin Luther King.
It is said that, though you kill the dreamer, you cannot kill the dream. It is a lovely sentiment, but it is only true in part. The truth is that Dr. King was such a titan on the world scene, such an essential figure in the fight for civil rights and voting rights, such a catalyst for change in the waging of unjust wars and the treatment of workers, that no single person could replace him. Coretta Scott King carried the family legacy, John Lewis got into good trouble and was elected to the House of Representatives, Thurgood Marshall remained on the Supreme Court, Andrew Young and Julian Bond and Jesse Jackson continued to raise their voices, Myrlie Evers and Dorothy Height and Barbara Jordan and Shirley Chisholm proved that leadership was never just a man's game.
And yet there was, and forever will be, just one Dr. King.
2012 Photo (c) McCloud, Living in Turnaround blog
This country has made undeniable progress. From the boardroom to the classroom to the courtroom, from the playing fields to the science labs, from Wall Street to Sesame Street, from the stage to the screen to outer space, people of color and women have taken advantage of the hard-won broadening of opportunities to distinguish themselves and elevate the American scene. This includes fuller participation by LGBTQ Americans, out and proud the way Bayard Rustin, the architect of the March on Washington, could not be in those times.
And the wildest dreams of the enslaved people who built so much of our nation's capital came true when Barack Hussein Obama became the 44th President of the United States of America.
So why am I still both sad and angry tonight? In the world of what we will never know, Dr. King's additional accomplishments might have humbled the prodigious achievements of his 39 years. My father and mother were both a little older than MLK; Dad outlived him by almost three decades, and Mom passed away just two years ago.
Had King survived, perhaps voting rights would have become a permanent fixture in America law. Maybe Vietnam would have ended a bit sooner and claimed fewer lives and, in his pressing for peaceful solutions to conflict, Iraq and Afghanistan would have been distant places on a map, and not the perpetual battlefields where Americans, allies and too many others suffered and died. It could have been that economic justice would have advanced far enough that “union” and “worker” would not have become pejoratives. Perhaps his ongoing reminders of what people lived through and died for to earn access to the voting booth would have influenced our pitiful, paltry turnout at the polls. It could have been that advances in equality would have proceeded at such a rate that Obama would have been the second black President. Maybe King's moral authority could have been brought to bear on the Equal Rights Amendment, and his power of persuasion in rectifying injustices between law enforcement and civilians would have rendered it unnecessary for anyone ever to have to say, “Black Lives Matter!”
Maybe we even could have done something about gun violence.
But a woman lost her husband, four children were robbed of their father, and the kind of moral leader who comes along once in a hundred years was stolen from this world.
Take a good look at the American scene today.
If a million of us take up Martin Luther King, Jr.'s mantle, if ten million put his words into action, if one hundred million say that enough is enough, and that what we have become is too small and too mean, that will be a start.
I can reach no conclusions tonight, because this weary world is forever a work in progress.
But the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., was never a Kumbaya dreamer, he was a man of action.
Though he was not perfect, he was the measure of a man.
He knew that hate is poison, that love is power, and that it takes strength to love.
Let's find that strength.
Let us be the peaceful warriors of freedom for all.
And may we always, always refuse to be silent about things that matter.
Photo by the National Park Service