Monday, January 15, 2007
Dr King We Sing!
Today is Martin Luther King Day. It is the celebration of one man's birthday. Rev King spent his life confronting injustice.
Some were disatisifed with the pace and the direction at times. Why did he put up with so much hostility and violence, and meet it with non-violence? Why listen to so much deliberate politicking and spend time trying to understand it? Did not Frederick Douglass once state that, "If there is no struggle there is no progress. Power gives up nothing without demands." Dr King understood these frustrations and points of view, and sympathised with them. He hoped that he was right to adopt the path of non-violent protest, and he persisted in making demands of the powerful. Along the way, he accepted the indignities that befell his fellow protestors, and shared their arrests and jailings. He was increasingly unafraid to ask questions about Vietnam, and to help stage the Poor People's Campaign as an alternative agenda for the American people, hoping to demonstrate the damage that a system of racism and war was doing to the fabric of the Great Society for all.
Who would Dr King celebrate today? An answer might be found in his Letter From a Birmingham Jail of April 16th 1963, written to shame those white liberal church leaders who had urged him to call off protests, and to wait for a concessions to be worked out. They misunderstood the nature of the black freedom struggle. Martin Luther King Jr knew that he did not have the power to stop something that he had not begun and did not control, and had been waiting long enough. In one passage, Dr King decides to introduce the true faces of the struggle:
"I wish you had commended the Negro sit-inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face Jeering, and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy-two-year-old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: "My fleets is tired, but my soul is at rest." They will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience' sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo-Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. "
If you have done one thing, big or small, to face up to injustice and prejudice, which can still pernicously divide us, then today is for you to celebrate.
Happy Birthday Dr King.
In 1968, in the aftermath of Dr King's murder, a gospel group called the Spiritual Consolators went to Style Wooten's Designer Records in Memphis to record a double-sided tribute to Dr King. In part, it was a lament, mourning the loss of a great leader. However, at the same time, the lyric is at pains to demonstrate that they will not go away quietly, but will overcome his passing. Dr King, We Sing. And to the King we sing. And we'll go on singing.
The Spiritual Consolators - Dr King We Sing (Part 1) (Designer 6789) 1968
The Spiritual Consolators - Dr King We Sing (Part 2) (Designer 6789) 1968
P.S. My class (they are 7 and 8) at school today recognised MLK all by themselves after a big discussion, and told me some things they knew about him, and they liked Stevie Wonder's Happy Birthday, which we played over about five times. We thought about whether they would be brave enough to tell someone if somebody was being picked on or treated unfairly. But they did think 50 Cent was cooler now than Stevie...