Originally published January 21, 2019
Today I was reflecting on MLK. I have had a stormy relationship with his memory. There were times when I toyed with the histories that thought less of him, or may have been, in some ways, an attempt to see him more as a human than an icon. Eventually, though, he secured my respect. In the end I could not resist the siren call of “I have a dream.” It was a speech delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Stanford University, among so many, catalogs the speech with this summary:
“In his iconic speech at the Lincoln Memorial for the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, King urged America to “make real the promises of democracy.” King synthesized portions of his earlier speeches to capture both the necessity for change and the potential for hope in American society.”
And the part that will not leave my heart:
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification,” one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today.
He chose to remain faithful to a nonviolent protest, to become a reminder to those who governed the nation that in the process of writing the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution our founders had written a promissory note to which each American was to fall heir. “This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
His legacy is the voice of promise, and the demand that it be fulfilled. It cannot be fulfilled by governments alone, it must spring from the people governed. King left us the legacy that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Indeed.
On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
In the past week another nationally shared event took place. Although there is still much finger pointing and multiple interpretations of what precisely happened, a few things appear to be settled. A small group of Black Hebrew Israelites began to verbally attack a group of Native Americans. Black Hebrew Israelites have a fringe militant edge that are the mirror image of White Supremacist groups—a vision that would have given King living nightmares. All the identity theology and supremacy ideology packed into the white-people rage fringe is mirrored in this group. They are known for their inherent hatred of Native Peoples as well as whites.
Into this mix appears a group of high school boys attending a Catholic High School and wearing MAGA hats. I was not able to confirm the reason for their visit, although there was mention of their attendance at the anti-abortion event, March for Life. So, now we have the perfect storm. Enraged fringe people, persons accustomed to being assaulted in word if not deed, and a group of young men nearing their testosterone peaks. America of today in a mini-mash.
Then there is the Elder, playing his drum and making eye contact with the one he perceives to be a leader. Willing the young man, with all that is within him, to not escalate the confrontation. Somehow, to some extent, he succeeds. And, yes, this is my interpretation born by the experience of working with First Nation peoples and knowing something of what it takes to receive the honors he bears. In addition to his garnered respect in the Native community, he is a vet, a man who has served the country which still has issues keeping its commitments to his people.
In this explosive incident, one that is being interpreted, reinterpreted, shared, doctored, fought over and blasted through social media, we have shone a light on where we are as a country today. I may not agree and may even be disgusted by the views of these young men and their parents—but never would I suggest death threats. Little is being said about the BHI because, well, there is probably too much guilt over the general treatment of blacks in this country to see with clear and reasoned vision when we should protest. We have wrapped ourselves up in such convoluted visions of what we think America is or should be we have forgotten our first, simple, shining vision.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” (Declaration of Independence).
From the Library of Congress:
The concept that all men are created equal was a key to European Enlightenment philosophy. But the interpretation of “all men” has hovered over the Declaration of Independence since its creation. Although most people have interpreted “all men” to mean humanity, others have argued that Jefferson and the other authors of the Declaration meant to exclude women and children. Within the context of the times it is clear that “all men” was a euphemism for “humanity,” and thus those people, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, who used the Declaration of Independence to demand equality for African Americans and women seized the historical as well as the moral high ground.
I have a dream, that one day we will be the nation we have always aspired to be and that all of our people will know the fruits of the promise of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.