Monday, January 19, 2009
One more day
Above is the reaction of Robert Kennedy, addressing a crowd of supporters on the evening the Rev. Martin Luther King was shot in Memphis. I heard a story about this a few weeks ago and the fact that Kennedy basically spoke off the top of his head and appealed to our better nature.
He was already scheduled to speak in a rough neighborhood in Indianapolis when he received word that King had been shot. He insisted on going ahead to the campaign stop.
From what I've heard, there was virtually no violence in that neighborhood that evening.
Additionally, Kennedy said:
So I ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King, yeah that's true, but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love - a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke.
We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times. We've had difficult times in the past. And we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; and it's not the end of disorder.
Below is a piece of King's Mountaintop speech, that he gave a day before Kennedy's and obviously, a day before he was killed. Much is made of the speech because he alludes to not being around to see the changes he was forcing and some people see that as oddly prophetic.
I've included it to dovetail with the Kennedy call for compassion and his realization that there had been tough times in the past and would be tough times in the future.
While President Obama is happy to link himself as a historical heir of Lincoln, I think he shares just as much with King and Kennedy in his calls for sacrifice and realization that the world doesn't change simple because millions of people voted for a black candidate.
With all the recent talk of race in America and what it means to have a black president, I've been a little confused. Honestly, I can't make a logical connection between Obama's election and the end of racism in our society. Many people have been eager to look to King's speech about having made it to the mountaintop and declare that we're there as of tomorrow afternoon.
I think even the most idealistic of us know that it's not that simple.
The night before he was killed, King spoke about where he would like to be if God would place him anywhere in history:
Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, "If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the twentieth century, I will be happy." Now that's a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up.
The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land. Confusion all around. That's a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a away that men, in some strange way, are responding — something is happening in our world.
The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee — the cry is always the same — "We want to be free."
And another reason that I'm happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we're going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demand didn't force them to do it.
Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it's nonviolence or nonexistence.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
April 3, 1968
While it's a nice quirk of history that many people are home today on MLK Day and Obama will be sworn in tomorrow, there is still a great deal of road to cover as alluded to by all three men. This will require hard work, understanding and, in the immediate case of the President, probably a few false starts and the need for patience.
Does his election mark the end of racism in this country? Certainly not. But it's a definite sign that it is dying.