Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated 4 years before I was born. I only became acquainted with him through the history I was taught in school. Even then, it was difficult to picture the world in which he lived. I attended public school in Florida with numerous Hispanic and African American children, and never gave a second thought to our racial differences. Two of my good friends were African American brothers who lived behind my father’s cabinet shop. The few times I encountered racist sentiments, I was thankful that my mother and father stood up to those persons quickly, and that they took time to teach me rightly. Even in high school, when racial tensions and gang affiliations were at the root of some school violence, I was thankful that the majority’s ability to remain united across racial lines eclipsed the hatred expressed by a few.
As I reflect upon these realities on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2012, it occurs to me that my thankfulness for these realities is rooted in the King’s success. No, he was not a perfect man; none of us . Though he served as a Baptist pastor, I also strongly disagree with some of the liberal tenets of his theology. However, God used him to precipitate realities that we and our children enjoy today. It is true that the work of helping people become “color blind” is not fully finished, but by God’s grace, we are far beyond where we were just 50 years ago. On this day, I would ask that we express our thankfulness to God, who has given us ultimate peace through Jesus, in whom “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28)
I would also ask that we not forget our history. Below is an excerpt from King’s letter from a Birmingham jail. It captures the reality of a racism that should grieve us to the core:
“I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say wait. But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an air-tight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her little eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” men and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger” and your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and when your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tip-toe stance never quite knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness” — then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the bleakness of corroding despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.”
Even as we consider the past, I would hope that we also could rejoice in how far God has brought us. Following are some of King’s words from his famous “I have a dream” speech: “I say to you today, my friends, that even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia 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 a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. 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 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!”
The dream is being realized. To God be the glory! I love you all.