I wrote about this a year ago, but I always keep coming back.
44 years seems like a long time ago. But it’s hard to believe not even half a century has passed since the most prominent face in American Civil Rights history had his life stolen away from him on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, just when he was embarking on his newest territory to conquer.
“… and I’ve looked over, and I have SEEN the Promised Land! I may not get there with you… but I want you to know tonight that we as a people WILL get to the Promised Land…”
I sometimes return to that quote every now and then. Admittedly, these days it’s moreso because of Aaron McGruder, but it still amazes me how Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., seemed to know his death was imminent. He just knew that his life was about to end, but that that the fight was far from over as well. As the popular saying goes, “one monkey don’t stop no show.” Dr. King wasn’t the first person to lose his life fighting for justice, and he certainly wouldn’t be the last. But what I appreciated about King, even more than the
oft-overquoted “I Have a Dream” speech, even more than the marches, even more than the vigilance, even more than the fact that he was about to turn America’s attention to the hard issues of poverty and the problems with Vietnam just before he was killed… was the fact that this man had HOPE.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to make the obvious Obama parallel here.
But that goes far. That went far in the 1960s and it would go SO much farther in the 21st Century if people – but Black people especially – believed in themselves. While it’s true that we on The Thread often joke about “coonery,” I think that in general everyone spends a substantial amount of time cracking on Black folks and our worst, than we do encouraging and reminding each other that we really do have the capacity and potential to do the things that must be done.
I can’t say for sure what “the Promised Land” was, and I won’t speculate on it. But it’s saying something that MLK accepted his fate and wasn’t dismissive. He was not so prideful as to assume that the movement would die with him. King was like, “I’m going home soon… but y’all GOT this.” Even today, King’s words seem prophetic, in light of such movements as the Trayvon Martin incident –
“If one recognizes [the yearning for Freedom] that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides -and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat, but a fact of history.”
And progress was made. America as a country and Black people have certainly made many strides, but we still have so much farther to go.
Surprisingly, electing a Black/Kenyan/biracial president didn’t solve all of America’s racial problems like so many thought it would.
“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed… For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see… that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
So today, once more, I remember a King. I remember his legacy. I remember his prophecy. Because he believed in Him as much as he believed in us, I believe in you. Don’t “wait” to do something. As a friend of mine once said, “Find [a cause] worth dying for and live for it.” And always, always… Remember the Lorraine.