“Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.”
Growing up, I remember a lot of emphasis being put on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in school. They never taught us what Memorial Day or Veterans Day were about; I had to learn that at home. By the 80’s, after the passage of the Vietnam era, public schools had already turned very liberal and didn’t teach respect for our troops nearly as much as they taught worship of activists.
As an adult, though, I do see the importance of remembering Dr. King. I see it in a different light now because I know more about what he believed and taught. It wasn’t just about “I Have a Dream” or even about “How Long? Not Long.” It was about reaching equal status as human beings regardless of color or creed – and reaching it in a spirit of respect. That was the underlying message in every speech he delivered, every march he led, every sermon he preached and every soul he touched. It is overwhelmingly sad that so many have since twisted his teachings into something unrecognizable.
“Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.”
Early in his days as an activist, Dr. King’s home was bombed over the Montgomery Bus Boycott. I never learned that in school – I had to learn it on my own. His response wasn’t anger. It wasn’t a demand for fellow black people to target white people with similar attacks. He hardly reacted at all. His greatest response – it was far classier than mine would have been – was to simply keep the movement going. That was just the beginning.
He insisted that they march and protest, but that every movement be nonviolent. He encouraged black people to refuse to move to the back of the bus or take their restaurant order outside, yet he taught those who refused to obey Jim Crow laws not to fight back when kicked off of their lunch stool or arrested for refusing to give up their seat to a white man on a bus. Even when police responded to their peaceful protests with water cannons, rubber bullets and dogs, Dr. King still refused to fight in the traditional sense. He went to jail. And when divisions arose over his strict policy of nonviolence, he requested that movements stop until everyone had cooled down.
“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.”
Dr. King’s message spoke volumes. His theme of earning respect by first showing it even to those who hated them advanced the rights of black Americans in ways that nobody up to that point had dreamed was possible. His strategy worked: when the first attempt to march from Selma to Montgomery ended in extensive police brutality against the protesters, news footage drew outrage across the country. Dr. King, however, called the very white men who threatened him (and, on occasion, did harm him) his brothers.
That was the remarkable thing about him: he was so hopeful for equality that he didn’t even entertain the notion of black America getting even or taking the upper hand. All he wanted, all he was willing to accept, was equality. He was not willing to be so much as rude or condescending, much less deliberately shocking. His ultimate goal was for people to get to a point where we saw right through skin color to the human being that inhabited that skin.
“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”
The night before he was assassinated, Dr. King gave a sermon at the Church of God in Christ in Memphis. During his sermon he said this: “I’ve 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. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man.” I choked up when I read that he had requested that, at his funeral, no mention be made of his awards or accolades.
Here we had a man so dedicated to peace and equality that he wasn’t even willing to defend himself when he was physically attacked. He wasn’t perfect, but he was dedicated and he set an amazing example – don’t accuse, don’t insult, but instead show love. Even such proteges as Jesse Jackson have lost the lessons that Dr. King left us.
Even worse, the same gay community who believes that Dr. King would have stood up for gay rights in America had he been alive today completely ignores his message.
“Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.”
If Dr. King were here today, he would weep for all of the anger there is now in liberal circles. Black, White, Hispanic, GLBT – all of these groups claim King’s legacy as part of their cause yet they either forget or deliberately ignore what he really taught. He taught that sacrifice and dignity in suffering were the moral high ground and would speak louder than anger and hatred, but that very important piece of his message is never observed anymore. Lately there’s been a lot of liberal hatred leveled at myself and other gay conservatives simply because we’re conservatives. We’re trying to have an intelligent conversation, yet we’re being shouted down by the same people who say Dr. King would have marched with them.
I’m not Dr. King. I’m not willing to allow anyone to do me harm simply because they don’t like my politics. In this day and age, I believe it sends the wrong message. I would rather pursue peace, however, and would do what I could to avoid violence. Tolerance is not possible as long as you excuse your own hatred by saying, “well, you’re a bigot, so I don’t have to tolerate you!” You’ll never be tolerated, much less accepted, as long as that is your game. I promise that Dr. King never would have approved.
Dr. King would have wept as well at the pervading attitude among many black Americans today that mere disagreement equals racism, not to mention the fact that freedom coupled with welfare has resulted in multiple generations of entire families doing nothing to build their communities up.
“Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.”