January 18th, 2010

Growing up in the 1960s, I and the other members of my white, middle-class family spent most of our time in the kitchen. We’d eat meals there (we had a dining room, but only used that when company came over), do our homework on the kitchen table, watch TV (for some reason, we preferred the little TV there to the big one in the basement rec room), and just hang out. The kitchen was the heart of the house. And Martin Luther King Jr. had a prominent place in it.

When I was a kid growing up,

The kitchen wasn’t just where we’d sup.

We’d eat all our meals there, do homework, and play.

The kitchen was where we’d spend most of the day.

     Two framed pictures hung on the wall

In that most important room of all.

I saw them many times each day:

Jesus Christ and MLK.

     I was only eight when he died.

I don’t remember if I cried.

I remember adults speaking with hushed tone.

I remember sitting in my room alone.

     My family is Lutheran (we’re of Northern German ancestry).

So when my daughter started learning church history,

I asked if she knew who the Lutheran Church founded.

Martin Luther King, she propounded.

     I told her she was part right, and gave her the correct date

For that, Dr. King came along about four centuries late.

But thank God Almighty that he came when he did,

And not sooner, or later, or not at all (God forbid).

     The movement still would have existed without him at its head,

But it might have been a very different movement instead.

Things might easily have turned out differently,

And probably much more violently.

     African Americans were brutalized for years,

Denied equal rights and forced to live in fear.

Jim Crow, the KKK, and segregation

Made ours a divided and immoral nation.

     While studying theology at Boston University

King was exposed to the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi.

After completing his dissertation,

Dr. King committed himself to fighting discrimination.

     Inspired by Ghandi’s success with non-violent resistance,

King travelled to India (with Quaker financial assistance)

He met and spoke with Mahatma Gandhi

And became an even stronger devotee.

     Some say non-violence is the coward’s way out,

But that’s not what non-violence is all about.

Some say non-violence is the easy thing to do,

But a look at the facts shows that’s patently untrue.

     Is it cowardice to stand firm as someone strikes you down,

And beats you with a club as you lie on the ground?

Is it cowardice to lie there and take that violent attack?

Wouldn’t it be easier to run away, or at least fight back?

     And when racist terrorists bombed a black congregation

Killing men, women, and children without hesitation,

Wouldn’t it have been tempting to bomb white churches in retaliation,

Causing a spiral of death and mutual devastation?

     Wouldn’t it have been tempting to fight fire with fire,

To attack KKK meetings where terrorists did conspire?

To seek private justice against lynch mobs which local sheriffs protected

(Or at least just as often, which local sheriffs led)?

     To march armed with guns and clubs instead of signs?

To burn down theaters with “Whites Only” lines?

To open the floodgates to a violent flood,

To repay pain with pain and blood with blood?

     To make white men fear for their lives?

To rape their daughters and assault their wives?

To assassinate every Southern sheriff and sheriff’s deputy?

To fight back against oppressors by “any means necessary”?

     Many Southern Whites expected all that to take place,

The rationalization for the violent measures they’d embrace.

But by working within the law and through peaceful civil defiance,

The movement created a powerful alliance.

     King was not just morally right, he was tactically right too.

Non-violence made it clear, what the country had to do.

Non-violence made it obvious that local sheriffs lied

When they said guns, dogs, and hoses were justified.

     News reports on TV

Showed horrible police brutality.

The following wave of condemnation

Helped pass Civil Rights legislation.

     Of course, non-violence doesn’t mean that killers should go free,

Although many still did, acquitted by an all-white local jury.

Hate crime legislation was passed

To make such miscarriage of justice a thing of the past.

     Non-violence does mean not taking the law into one’s own hands,

Escalating the cycle of violence with opposing armed bands.

Imagine that death and destruction that would bring,

And it could easily have happened without Martin Luther King.

     Dr. King was shot on April 4, 1968 at the Lorraine Motel.

Segregationists in his death did revel.

James Earl Ray thought killing King would make him a hero

Instead of what his was (and remained): a social zero.

     Riots and violent protests rocked the nation

As news spread of King’s assassination.

In Indianapolis, Bobby Kennedy spoke of how a white man had killed a member of his family.

And asked the crowd to honor Dr. King’s teachings and memory.

     But although the battle for equality would go on,

The Civil Rights war had already been won.

Freedom would ring across the land.

In death, as in life, the Lord did indeed take King’s hand.

     Jan. 17, 2000 was the first time MLK Day was officially observed in every state

(Whether it would be used to be subject to bitter debate).

And Dr. King is finally getting his memorial on the National Mall

(Privately raised funds will cover the cost of it all).

     Some Southern whites toward King still are hateful,

But they’re the ones that should be particularly grateful.

Though they didn’t support his non-violent movement’s goals,

It may have saved their lives, as well as their souls.


Here’s an excellent original song (with accompanying images) by singer-songwriter Will King about the “Bloody Sunday” march, one of the turning points in general public awareness of and opposition to discrimination and brutality against African Americans. The author is donating all proceeds from the song to the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development.

Here’s video from the 8/28/63 March On Washington, including King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, considered one of the greatest speeches in American history.

Here’s King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech from April 3, 1968, the day before he was assassinated.

Here’s Walter Cronkite’s announcement of Dr. King’s assassination.

Here’s Mahalia Jackson singing Dr. King’s favorite hymn “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.” Jackson sang the song at Dr. King’s funeral. Aretha Franklin sang it at Jackson’s funeral.

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Posted in Freedoms, In honor of, What ails us | 6 Comments »

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6 Responses to “MLK Day”

  1. Flyer Says:

    We owe so much to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But what we owe most to him is to resist the hatred that now confronts our divided nation, and to resist it with the same strength of purpose and vision that Dr. King taugjht us.

    In particular, “tea parties” have now become the vehicle of mindless hate and division. We about to witness a national “Tea Party” convention. We must resist this source of hatred and stand against it as courageously as Dr. King and his many supporters stood against hatred 45 years ago. And we must do so even though we suffer being shouted down or worse. Only when we ourselves speak out shall we overcome.

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