18 January 2010

Martin Luther King Jr.

We shall overcome. Deep in my heart, I do believe, "we shall overcome." You know, I've joined hands so often with students and others behind jail bars singing it, "We shall overcome." Sometimes we've had tears in our eyes when we joined together to sing it, but we still decided to sing it, "We shall overcome."
Oh, before this victory's won, some will have to get thrown in jail some more, but we shall overcome. Don't worry about us. Before the victory's won, some of us will lose jobs, but we shall overcome.
Before the victory's won, even some will have to face physical death. But if physical death is the price that some must pay to free their children from a permanent psychological death, then nothing shall be more redemptive.
We shall overcome.
Before the victory's won, some would be misunderstood and called bad names and dismissed as rabble rousers, terrorists and agitators, but we shall overcome. - Martin Luther King Jr.

My hometown is Selma, Alabama --  a town known in American history for being the site of the Bloody Sunday Massacre. In March 1967, in response to the local government’s de facto disenfranchisement of black citizens, Dr. Martin Luther King and others in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee organized a march to the state capital of Montgomery fifty miles away. Like Gandhi before him, King and his followers were met with violence -- and like Gandhi before him, King succeeded in forcing the powers that be in the United States to face the human consequences of their indifference and hostility.

I’ve only come to appreciate King in recent years. Growing up in the town of Selma -- seeing the bridge on a daily basis -- I thought little of the town’s history. The sense I picked up from relatives and other ‘whites’ was that the past was the past and they’d rather it not be brought up. My appreciation for King was very benign, as if he’d only made speeches about what should be done.  Then I read Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience and suddenly realized that democracy wasn’t really about  ballots. It’s about people acting and forcing the status-quo-enforcing institution that is the government to respond. I have since begun to admire his commitment to nonviolence, as I increasingly perceive the strength it takes.

Because of King and men and women like him, I was able to grow up in a time where state-endorsed racism is a thing only found in history books and personal prejudice has become a public shame. In this way, he and they freed me -- and I thank them. King has become an inspiration to me in the past two years, and I greet the observance of his birth with the enthusiasm that a life so well-lived deserves.

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