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Writings from the Porch

January 16, 2017

MLK: Thoughts on a Holiday

I’m pretty-well permanently labelled as a non-holiday guy. To paraphrase John Lennon, each day is a holiday if you want it. But today I’d like to address some thoughts on a meaningful holiday. I’ll even call it celebrating. First, a quote:

“Though some have been put in jail, sometimes for months, some have been beaten and others have had lighted (cigarettes) thrown down their backs, your fellow men are acting with dignity and respect to keep an issue at the forefront of the conscience of the nation. As a result, 14 cities have opened lunch counters within six months. To have achieved this by court action would have taken three years and $200,000 to $300,000. To those who do not understand our longings and aspirations we must say, ‘We will match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to absorb suffering.’” —Martin Luther King Jr., July 28, 1960

He was referring to the violence endured—endured willingly—in order to effect real change. The result was that black folks could sit in the same restaurant, at the same counter, with white folks without being legally removed or arrested. These people, black and white, are often referred to as Civil Rights workers, and the work they took upon themselves was deadly and without financial remuneration. A key to the victories achieved is that they were well-led and focused, not attempting to eliminate every injustice with a single blow, nor letting emotion take the lead.They took aim at vital points and pressed relentlessly until a measure of positive results were achieved. Often the targets blended together, but the central target of equality and true justice remained the prize.

Saying people of all races were beaten and killed in my lifetime in order to achieve civic recognition of rights already granted citizens by the US Constitution is not hyperbole. It is fact. Yes, peaceful nonviolent protesters were beaten, jailed and killed for seeking civil rights already granted by the very same Constitution so many folks like to bray about. And this select group stayed non-violent, literally turning the other cheek in the spirit of the religion in which they believed. Yes, there were also violent groups attempting to force change in these same times, but the long-term results are permanently connected to what history calls the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. And it was a non-violent movement nourished by love and genuine brotherhood.

The importance of studying the history of the Civil Rights Movement is not to wallow in the horrible injustices it addressed but rather to understand how those injustices were righted. Just as great generals study the tactics of victory in previous wars, now is the time to study and utilize the peaceful tactics used by the Movement as we confront injustice, whether longstanding or newly discovered. This is what Dr King died for—and why we have a Martin Luther King day. It’s not about appeasement; it’s about achieving true freedom and justice. And that’s worth celebrating.


(Photo is of Ralph Abernathy and Will Campbell embracing in the motel room
in front of which Dr. King had been assassinated just hours earlier)

January 16, 2017