Monday, January 16, 2017

Honoring Martin Luther King, Jr.

'The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.'

~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

In this day and age, when we see racism seemingly on the rise in this country, with reminders that black lives do matter after a slate of clearly unnecessary police shootings and beatings that are increasingly caught on tape, with hate crimes on the rise, with nationalist movements also on the rise here and in many other western nations, and with a President-elect soon to take office here in these United States who was outright supported by the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist organizations, after eight years of the first black presidency.

Yes, these are scary times that we live in, and it is all too easy to despair. Indeed, many people seem to be despairing right now.

Yet, we need to remember that improvements have been made, and still can be made. Indeed, they must be made, and that will not happen if we just look around in horror and feel totally overwhelmed by it all.

Let us remember the progress that has been made, even if some of the hard earned victories of the past feel threatened now. Martin Luther King, Jr., fought against racial segregation in the United States back in the 1950's and 1960's. He fought against both legalized and de facto practices of racial segregation in both the north and the south of the United States. Back then in the Jim Crow South, we must remember, there were separate entrances for white and non-whites in public buildings, separate bathrooms and water fountains for whites and non-whites, and they had separate spaces in restaurants and movie theaters and beaches and hotels. It goes without saying that they lived in separate neighborhoods, and that the economic disparity between whites and non-whites was very significant. Blacks were also discouraged from voting, particularly in the South.

The civil rights movement of the 1950's and 1960's helped to change all of that. Suddenly, people saw on the nightly news, here and abroad, images of peaceful protesters being attacked by dogs and sprayed by powerful hoses. Official practices of racial segregation gained increasing media coverage, so that noted musicians like Ray Charles and even the Beatles, as well as other pop icons of the time, decided to boycott facilities which practiced racial segregation. The peaceful marches, including the most famous one in Washington that was dominated by MLK's famous "I have a dream" speech, helped to sway public opinion, despite fierce resistance by segregationists, particularly the Dixiecrats of the day.

Change did come, and King's emphasis on nonviolent activism proved effective in forcing change, although it certainly did not achieve real equality or permanently resolve the racial problems that have always plagued the United States, in particular. It would not have been resolved had Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life not been cut short by an assassin's bullet in the spring of 1968, although more progress might indeed have been made.

However, I believe that his calming influence, like that of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, did help the country to confront itself and it's own shortcomings (and not just in regards to racism) and to make some changes accordingly. Jim Crow segregation was officially abolished in a series of legislative steps that increasingly empowered non-whites in the South, and even in the North. Progress seemed to be being made, although the steps forward often seem to be quickly followed by matching steps backwards, as the recent election of Donald Trump to the White House, the racial disparity of our for profit prison system, as well as other efforts to suppress voters (particularly gerrymandering) clearly suggest. 

Still, we have to try and keep our eyes on the prize. We have to keep fighting for, and believing in, progress, if we are to make serious efforts towards improving the country. Towards those ends, we could certainly do worse than to follow the example put forth by MLK half a century ago. 

And so, on this day, I honor the man and his lasting legacy.

Here are some of my favorite MLK Jr. quotes that seemed worth sharing here:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: "This is not just."

There must be a better distribution of wealth, and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.

Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

 have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.

Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?

The time is always right to do what is right. We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.

Here is a good video for children about MLK, Jr.:

This video seemed pretty good as well, even though it comprises only soundbites from Malcolm X and MLK, Jr., and not an actual debate, as they only outright met each other once, to my knowledge.

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