Today, on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, I have a lot on my mind.
I have always respected Dr. King and the work he did to try to bridge differences and bring about equal rights in the United States. In many ways, I hope to emulate him.
A couple of recent experiences have brought to life for me the world Dr. King lived in.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture
About a week ago, I finally was able to visit the new African American History Museum. I can say that it is phenomenal! I went with a group from the Justice House of Prayer, and we spent our time in the section describing the era of segregation through to the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. King’s time.
One of the things that struck me was the intense hatred displayed by many at that time. Black people were often attacked simply because they were successful at what they were doing. Whenever progress was made, there were those close at hand to tear it down and beat the ambition out of anyone who had it. The irrational mistreatment of humans was incomprehensible, and I am amazed – and ashamed – that it was allowed to continue as long as it did, or that it was ever tolerated at all.
Yesterday, I went to see the movie Hidden Figures. It depicts the true story of three amazing women who not only struggled against racism but also sexism and prevailed.
What I hadn’t realized before was that it was set at the same time as the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. King’s work. It brought into living color the everyday realities that Black Americans faced in a way the visit to the museum hadn’t. I have so much respect for those women, and others like them, who fought battles so that their children and grandchildren would have a better life.
Because these events happened over 50 years ago, many might say that the world is completely different. While we no longer have “colored bathrooms” and “colored drinking fountains,” perhaps things have not changed as much as we think.
The opening scene of the movie has the three heroines broken down on a deserted road on their way to work. Industrious and clever, they are working to fix the car themselves when a police car approaches.
One line stood out to me- “It’s no crime to have your car break down.” These women were clearly concerned about how the policeman would treat them.
This situation continues today, when law-abiding people of color have cause to be concerned. No, not every police encounter is deadly, but even if one person dies while cooperating with police, that is one too many.
Progress and Promise
In his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. King said, “I have a dream that one day … the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” I have seen this come true with my own eyes.
There is hope, but only if we realize that Dr. King’s work remains unfinished.
When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every 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…. America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.
It is time to make good on this promissory note!
Link to full speech: Archives.Gov