The Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Legacy of Dr. King
By Dexter Yarbrough. On a recent business trip to Atlanta, I decided to take my youngest daughter to visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site. We also visited the tomb of Dr. King and his wife, the house he grew up in and the old and new Ebenezer Baptist Church (he and his father preached at Ebenezer).
I have visited before and it had a profound effect upon me, but I wanted my daughter to have that experience. If you are ever in Atlanta, I suggest you check it out. It gives you a different perspective on black history, and yes, American history.
As we walked through the site and watched the videos of Dr. King speaking, blacks being water-hosed and the awful living conditions many were relegated to live in, I received a new perspective of what Dr. King tried to accomplish.
When it came to music (specifically Rhythm and Blues), I always believed that you belonged to one of two camps - those that liked Michael Jackson and those that liked Prince. I was a Prince fan. I felt the same way when it came to Dr. King and Malcolm X and the fight for the rights of black people. Even though Malcolm X died just before I was born and Dr. King died while I was a toddler, I was a big supporter of Malcolm X.
I always felt that non-violence was for punks. I wasn't going to let some white man beat on me while I sang "We shall Overcome." I was going to peel his head back like an orange. Malcolm X dared a white man to hit him. If you knew anything about Malcolm, that would have been one dead "cracker," if you were to use his terminology for the times.
Due to my renewed perspective, I believe that Dr. King could have fought with the best of them. He was no scared country preacher! If you really give it some thought, he had to be tough to face constant death threats and great bodily harm. No, it wasn't that he was afraid to fight back. What he wanted to do was point out the HYPOCRISY of a nation and many of its people that claim to believe in Christian ideals as well as the words of Jesus Christ.
Dr. King knew the history of America - a history not always predicated on peace and forgiveness. He knew that violence would only beget violence, especially when uppity Negroes got out of hand. So, as a tactic, he used non-violence to shame America into upholding the rights of its black citizens and ultimately, all citizens, explicitly stated in those documents that true Americans honor and cherish.
Dr. King wanted the world to see these words - "We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness..." - against the actions of people that play lip service to the words.
Yes. He wanted the world to compare these words with the actions or non-action of many of the American people as well as their government. Abraham Lincoln wanted to preserve the union at all costs. So did Dr. King. Between Dr. King, Malcolm X and a few others, their words alone could have released blacks to unleash decades of unrest and harsh treatment in many violent ways. Poor whites, Latinos and American Indians most likely would have been great allies. Again, Dr. King knew this and America should be happy that he chose the approach that he did.
What About Today?
Would Dr. King be happy with the conditions in America if he were still alive? Absolutely not! He would not be happy with the glorification of violent rap music. He would not be happy with the drug culture in many poorer black communities. And he would not be happy with the violence in black communities.
He would also point out that overt racism has been replaced with covert racism in subliminal messages via the media, public lynchings of black men via journalistic attacks, discrimination in employment offices and prejudice in banking loans for housing and small businesses.
The sit-ins and marches were never only about the right to sit next to whites on a bus or to sit on the same toilets. It was about gaining political, educational and economic equality. It was and still is about opening the eyes of those that claim to love Jesus and live by Christian ideals, yet "worship" in segregated churches. I think God has made it quite clear what is acceptable and what is not; heaven will not be "separate but equal." Perhaps hell will for those enticed by its accommodations.
What About Obama?
Dr. King was never one to be at a loss for words. He was never one not to speak his mind. He told it like it was despite the ramifications. He didn't die because of civil rights. He died because he spoke out against the Vietnam War. He died because Americans of all colors were being used as pawns in a game at the expense of patriotism.
Dr. King would have been proud of Thurgood Marshall. He would have been just as proud of Clarence Thomas. He would have been proud to see Barack Obama as President. But today, I think he would chastise him for promising change and delivering the same. He would chastise the President for forgetting about the black community while black unemployment is near 30% in some areas. He would spank the President for Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. And Dr. King would grab Obama's throat while letting him know that black middle class gains over 40 years have nearly been wiped out since he was President, while acknowledging that his predecessor helped get to this point.
Dr. King would call out the Democrats for lying to black people since Lyndon B. Johnson was President. He would point out how blacks were doing better before they joined the Democrats in mass droves. And he would remind the Republicans of their proud history of helping blacks during the Reconstruction and on Civil Rights Bills as well as not letting them forget that they accepted racist southern Democrats into the GOP for political expediency. He would challenge the Republicans for abandoning blacks and being aloof, aloft and elitists. He would not like the empty words recalling his life and the "...judged not by the color of their skin but the content of their character" dribble that is espoused during his birthday celebrations around the nation.
I believe that Dr. King would agree that President Obama is A fulfillment of his dream, not THE fulfillment of it.
Dr. King Quotes
"A man can't ride your back unless it's bent."
"An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity."
"Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase."
"Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed."
"I want to be the white man's brother, not his brother-in-law."
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
While I was a fan of Prince, I recall a song by Michael Jackson called "Man in the Mirror."
"I'm Gonna Make A Change,
For Once In My Life
It's Gonna Feel Real Good,
Gonna Make A Difference
Gonna Make It Right..."
The legacy of Dr. King rests with all people that truly live the principles of truth and justice and equality for all, not for those who play lip service to these ideals. So many great men and women have been killed or isolated because we allow the evil to rule the day instead of goodwill, citizenship and honorable actions to those that may be different from us in some way.
I am thrilled that my trip to Atlanta enlightened my perspective on this great man even further. Now my own daughter has the opportunity to move forward knowing that he dedicated his life to the promise of a new day. Dr. King looked in the mirror everyday. He wasn't perfect, but neither are you.
The question is will his legacy live on in spirit only or will it be truly returned to an active practice? Are you willing to look at the man/woman in the mirror? Will you change your ways?
Dexter Yarbrough - Copyright 2011
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