Friday, April 04, 2008

Martin Luther King 1929-1968


"Today, the choice is no longer between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence. The Negro may be God's appeal to the age."
.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
.
I can still vividly recall where I was the night I learned of the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King. April 4, 1968 was four months and twelve days before my tenth birthday. I was in a car, coming back from a long defunct business in Middletown, NY called Lloyd's Shopping Center. The moment the news came over the radio, we were going up the ramp on exit 122, the Fletcher Street exit off of the Quickway, at the very edge of the village of Goshen. I don't remember who the other passengers were. I don't remember who was driving. The only thing I distinctly remember is that bulletin.

It's hard to believe that he has been dead longer than he was alive. To put it another way, had a person born on the day Dr. King died lived as long as he lived, that person would have died on June 24th of last year. It's just a reminder as to how young he really was when he was taken from us by some half-witted yahoo with a high powered rifle. The night of the assassination, cities burned all across America, resulting in the deaths of 110 people. One of the few that was spared the violence and bloodshed was Indianapolis, Indiana, where the soothing words of Robert Kennedy sent the people back to their homes, transforming thousands of potential rioters into prayerful contemplatives:
`
"So I ask all of you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King....but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love - a prayer for understanding and compassion....Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world....Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and a prayer for our country and our people."
`
What is the most awe-inspiring thing about Kennedy's remarks that horrible evening is the fact that he spoke without notes - it was entirely extemporaneous. Two months and one day later, as if the nightmare of King's death was merely a sick prologue, Bobby Kennedy, too, would be shot and killed in Los Angeles, California. 1968 was that kind of year.
.
One can only imagine what Martin Luther King would have made of the America of 2008. True, there is little doubt that he would have been thrilled that an African American had a real shot at the presidency - and a woman too for that matter. It goes without saying that he would be pleased at the progress blacks have made in some areas of American society. But it cannot be denied that the progress that seemed to be moving with such great momentum throughout the sixties and seventies, came to a dead stop in 1981 when the American people foolishly sent an inarticulate racist by the name of Ronald Wilson Reagan to the White House. He would be working overtime at this very moment to correct that situation.
.
It' s also a fairly safe wager that Martin Luther King, whom at the time of his death was in the process of organizing a Poor People's March on Washington, would have been rendered righteously indignant by the war on the poor and middle class that has been going on in this country unabated since the dawn of the so-called "Reagan Revolution" twenty-eight years ago. And it's not a serious stretch of the imagination to conclude that Martin Luther King, who on April 4, 1967 (exactly one year before he died) began to speak out against the war in Vietnam, would have been outraged by the immoral and illegal assault on the men, women and little children of Iraq.
.
No question about it, the America of April 4, 2008 would have broken his heart,
.
It's hard - if not impossible - to imagine what he would have thought of the decline of America's political oratory in the ensuing four decades. What would the man who declared, "I have a dream" have thought of George W. Bush? Can you even imagine?
`
From:
"I have a dream that one day my children will be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
To:
"Bring 'em on!"
.
Yeah, we've fallen about as far as we can, haven't we? To paraphrase the great Mort Sahl, when a nation goes from John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King to the likes of George Bush and Dick Cheney it only proves one thing: DARWIN WAS WRONG!
.
From every mountainside, let freedom ring!
`
And if America is to be a great nation, this must be true.
`
And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire!
`
Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York!
`
Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!
`
Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado!
`
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!
`
But not only that -
`
Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!
`
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!
`
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi!
`
From every mountainside, Let Freedom ring!
.
It really doesn't get any better than that, does it? We are a kinder, gentler nation today - if only somewhat - because for a time, Martin Luther King walked among us - as tragically brief as that time might have been.
.
I have a vinyl LP of some of Dr. King's speeches. Whenever I listen to it, whatever my frustration level may be when I drop the needle on Side One, by the time the tone arm of my turntable edges its way down the play-out groove of Side Two, I always end up feeling a little better about this country. That America can produce a man such as this is cause for hope. Maybe, just maybe, such a person is within out midst at this very moment; gently reaching out to the better angels of our nature. Maybe we're just not listening.
.
Shh....Listen....
.
Tom Degan
Goshen, NY
tomdegan@frontiernet.net
.
"Like everybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned with that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go to the mountain. And I've looked over. And 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. And so I'm happy tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!"
.
Martin Luther King
April 3, 1968
.
SUGGESTED READING:
.
Let The Trumpet Sound:
The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr.
by Stephen B. Oates

6 Comments:

At 3:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom,
Thank you.
Your kind words in memory of Martin Luther King speak to the heart.
"Let freedom ring!"
W

 
At 8:18 PM, Blogger Tom Cornell said...

What is there to add to your words, Tom? It seems like yesterday -- and yet so long ago.

JFK, MLK and Bobby -- never get over it.

 
At 3:29 PM, Blogger Kevin said...

Tom,

Thank you for your fine, thought-provoking remembrance. You and I are so close in age and I too remember those events as a child.

And to the other Tom, thank you for carrying the legacy of Dorothy Day, who along with Martin Luther King, gives us a glimpse of our moral potential.
- Kevin Swanwick

 
At 4:06 PM, Blogger Tom Degan's Daily Rant said...

Tom Cornell and Kevin Swanwick:

The two of you guys reall ought to meet! I'll set it up...

The other Tom (Degan)

 
At 7:12 PM, Blogger The Dreamer said...

I wish there weer many more vocal people like the good Doctor King. As Bill Hicks often said, we kill people like him and let the demons run amok. America lost it's soul after JFK, MLK and RFK dyed.

Grea blog by the way, I'll add a link to you in my blogosphere section on teh next update. Thanks for making my day.

 
At 7:04 PM, Anonymous Firew said...

great thought !!! dear Tom i have learned a lot of important things from your writhing!
Thank you !
Firew

 

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home