At this point, I would like to remind everyone exactly what Martin Luther King did, and it wasn’t that he “marched” or gave a great speech.

My father told me with a sort of cold fury, “Dr. King ended the terror of living in the south.”

Please let this sink in and and take my word and the word of my late father on this.  If you are a white person who has always lived in the U.S. and never under a brutal dictatorship, you probably don’t know what my father was talking about.  

But this is what the great Dr. Martin Luther King accomplished.  Not that he marched, nor that he gave speeches.

He ended the terror of living as a black person, especially in the south.

–Most of you have no idea what Martin Luther King actually did by HamdenRice

When I have my day off, each year, for Martin Luther King, Jr., I usually find myself thinking “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’ ” because my life has been pretty comfortable and very safe. Although I know that a healthy society requires those of us with surplus to share what we have with those of us in deficit, I also know that some means of charity and service are easier than others. I imagine King would not be displeased that people were remembering our duty to do for others–after all, he was a reverend–but what a disservice to his work and the civil rights struggle we do in treating today like a day just about good will.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was not assassinated for preaching a duty to the less fortunate or for advocating service for those in need. He was not assassinated for believing in communities. He was killed because he demanded that black Americans be afforded basic human dignity in all interactions, that black Americans have real equality under the law, and that black Americans be safe in all communities.

My own ignorance about a critical moment in the development of the United States astounds me. So, I wonder if that’s a fitting means of remembrance: education about what King really did, about who the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee were and how much they accomplished, about how much change and growth came from people whose names are not heralded, whose accomplishments are not celebrated, whose courage was extraordinary, all the more for being exercised in a place that was holding itself out to the world as the model of freedom from oppression.

This seems as good a place as any to note that Franklin McCain, one of ‘Greensboro Four’ who sat down at the “whites-only” lunch counter, died earlier this month. That is our history. We need to internalize it.




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