Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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As with most historical figures, as time passes, our recollection of The Reverend Doctor King changes. It’s sometimes hard to believe that so few years ago we had legally enforced segregation. That the Pentagon had separate bathrooms for blacks and whites because of Virginia law. That Norfolk shut down its public school system rather than integrate. That Rosa Parks was arrested for keeping her seat on a public bus.

Dr. King brought these ugly facts to the forefront, but did so in a way that made it impossible to ignore.

We all think of ourselves as the “good guys” and prior to the 1960s, equality was not something we wanted to think about. Whites weren’t biased, it’s just that blacks and whites were seen as different, or so we wanted to believe.

It’s true, blacks and whites are different. Not because of being black or white, but because each of us is an individual and every individual is different. It took us a long time to figure this out.

Today we look around and congratulate ourselves on making a lot of progress. We have a black president starting his second term. Neighborhoods are integrated. Mixed families are becoming more common.

However, making progress is different from reaching a goal.

It’s because Columbus found land in the New World that he’s renowned, not because he set sail. Armstrong wasn’t the first astronaut to head to the moon, he was the first to actually get there. Progress is good, but it’s only a step in the right direction.

We’re making progress, but we need to continue.

Today we may see Dr. King as an icon – an ideal. Like Washington, Lincoln, and so many others, in life he was not a marble statue but just another individual. The difference is that people like Washington, Lincoln, and King took on the challenges, took the heat, and told us what we needed to hear, whether we wanted to hear it or not. King was a man, not an icon, but that’s what makes what he did so monumental. He stood up when others feared to.

Celebrate tomorrow as a day that marks one more step forward for humanity.

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One response to “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

  1. Back in the 60’s when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. came and spoke at the UCLA campus, I was so taken by him and so naive–that I wrote to the Pople at the Vatican to nominate Reverend King for sainthood. There was just one little, itty, bitty thing: I neglected to remember He wasn’t Catholic.

    Coming from a tough, autocractic Mexican dad whose word was law, I didn’t
    believe in challenging or messing with authority: I respected and obeyed authority, and that was that. So I was against all the marches and upheaval I thought blacks were causing in the south…until I heard MLK speak at UCLA my freshman year, and then I went up to him personally to ask him a few questions. I was only 14 years old and I was very dumb.

    I ignorantly asked Dr. King about the difference between “human rights” vs
    “rights for blacks as blacks–because they’re blacks.” Wow, did he ever pull me aside and let me have it. With great patience and eloquence and grace, he asked my name, and said: “Rick, you speak English well. Have you ever asked for anything because you speak Spanish or English well? Or did you simply ask because you wanted to remind the other person of the SPIRIT of what’s right under God or Man? This is not about black identity for the sake of power counted, rather the universal rights of Man. And this is not about respect for blacks as blacks, rather as human beings simply.”

    What Dr. King did to and for me–and perhaps our country–is strip segregation of its moral legitimacy, and prepare me for its “legal” collapse. And King was able to hold up for inspection and introspection the very core of our beliefs–and do it in a way that required me (not him) to pass judgment on myself. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. freed America, and all Americans. I believe this is how special he was.

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