It is one of those unfortunate things in life --  that is also fortunate in many cases-- that as time passes, the details of history begin to fade and blur until we have only vague recollections of what happened.  As the saying goes, time heals old wounds  -- or just lets scar tissue grow over it.
      And so, as time passes,  the price that many paid for the basic civil rights that most citizens enjoy begins to recede into history. For those born after 1968, it might merely be an abstraction, folklore passed down from generation to generation. The murders, the bombings, the injuries, the humiliation and the barriers all seem distant and unreal. They don't quite touch us emotionally in the same way that they used to.
      I can only imagine what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. went through and what he felt as "he walked the walk while he talked the talk." Back then in the  "Ole South," there was a sense of violence that always permeated the air, almost like an electrical charge in the air before the thunderstorm hits. It could intensely strike without warning, for no other reason than whistling at a White woman.
      I remember staying in the homes of civil rights activists in the backwoods of Mississippi during the early 1970s. Those backwoods roads were so eerie in the darkness and the kudzu and Spanish moss hanging from oak trees like haunting spirits; lonely roads like the one on which Schwerner, Cheney, and Goodman were kidnapped by the Ku Klux Klan and the local police and then murdered, all because they fought for equal rights.
      You could sit in the dimly-lit ramshackle homes without plumbing -- yet clean and proud homes -- of people like Mrs. Applewhite, warmed by a space heater, and hear about the civil rights battles that were fought in every hamlet and city throughout the South. Mrs. Applewhite -- well into her 80s, but very vital, could look you in the eye, spit out a chaw of tobacco and stop you in your tracks. I knew she wasn't afraid of those  "White folks." And after the civil rights work was over, she didn't begrudge them either. She was too busy raising her hogs and her turnip greens and her snap beans.
    Countless and nameless everyday people had to stand up everywhere if there were going to be civil rights anywhere in the United States. And the violence, the segregation, and the degradation lingered on years after laws were signed until someone or a local church or chapter of the NAACP stood up to the injustice. Or when the  "Ole South" became the      "New South," some prosperous White merchant said things had to change or the northern companies wouldn't be relocating their factories down in the heart of Dixie. And even then, the inequalities persisted, but they were kept in the backroom, out of sight of strangers and the media.
      Yes, that sense of violence lingered in the air and spread across the South like a suffocating blanket during those turbulent years.  It was a time when poor Whites went after their own economic interests to preserve their status as "White people," one step above the  "Colored people." It was an illusion that they fought to preserve, an illusion that prevented them from seeing their real lot in life. And some fought with uncontrolled violence to preserve that illusion while others were picking their pockets. Little girls in Sunday school were killed by bombs. Some people disappeared into the dark Mississippi night while Black churches blazed due to the torch of the racist arsonist.
      I can only imagine what Dr. King felt when even some of his own people, Black people, didn't support what he was trying to do. There are those on both sides of the aisle who have privilege and benefit from any kind of social system that is put in place. And others worried about the violence that Dr. King's movement might ignite, which could rage across the   land. Remember Rosewood and other Black communities that were burned down to the ground?
      I can only imagine what Dr. King would have felt when he realized that segments of his government -- the government he paid taxes to -- "My country  'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty" -- were spying on him and allowing the violence to      continue. How did Dr. King feel when there was no  "law and order" standing between the marchers and the angry mobs? How did he feel when he knew that the movement he led would result in injuries and possibly deaths? How did he feel when it was only his faith and public  opinion that prevented the forces of violence from descending upon him?
      While the civil rights movement was happening in every hamlet across the South -- and the North, which was just as segregated and violent  -- it was Dr. King's movement that sat at the apex of the battle between the forces of the  "Old South" and the "New South" that would become Atlanta and other places where Blacks participated fully in national life. It was the outcome of the battle at this apex that would help determine the results of the movement in every hamlet of America.
      Oh, I can only imagine the pressure -- the pressure that strikes deep into the emotional tissue of a person -- that Dr. King felt. Dr. King was no fool, no feel-good preacher who said  "Can't we all just get along?" No; Dr. King was a      strategist and an intellectual who knew full well the implications and the repercussions of his actions. And he cared deeply so that he felt the repercussions of his actions as well. He knew; he felt; and I'm sure he suffered.
      And how did Dr. King feel as he pushed forward with The Movement? I can just imagine that he felt the temptation to "cash out" the position and prominence he attained. Oh, I'm sure he could have  "retired" from the movement and sat on the board of Coca-Cola and later Turner Broadcasting. But Dr. King had his Dream and he followed it and remained the uncompromised leader that even his enemies, in some portion of their being, had to respect. He died with a house and that was about it. There was firm financial base of stocks and life insurance left to Coretta and their children.
      Dr. King sacrificed his life so that we could live with a modicum of equality, so that we could enter the passage to a new way of living, so that we could begin transitioning to his "Beloved Community." I can only imagine that Dr. King now sits at the right hand of God. We are because you were.
VOL II No. 1                 January 10, 2007
JANUARY 10, 2007
stories/columns

*
The Literary Divide: Looking back to 2006 and the nation,
by Dr. Paul Barrows

*
Roland Martin speaks at State of Wisconsin's King Tribute,
by Jonathan Gramling

* Observing the Venezuelan election: Democracy in action (Part 2),
by Jonathan Gramling

*
Poetry: "Why should it matter?"
by Daniel Kunene

*
In defense of Culture (Part 1),
by Heidi M. Pascual
(
www.asianwisconzine.com)

*
Politicas de Hoy: Peter Munoz para alcalde,
por Alfonso Zepeda Capistran

*
Simple things: The First Twenty-Nine Days (A book review),
by Lang Kenneth Haynes

*
Voices: Ward Connerly,
by Dr. Jean Daniels

*
Kwanzaa at Olbrich Gardens,
by  Jonathan Gramling

*
Random Order: Letter to a King,
by Tracie Gilbert

*
Thoughts on Affirmative Action,
by Peng Her

*
A scholarly commemoration of
Dr. King
,
by Keme Hawkins

* The perils of Affirmative Action,
by Gladis Benavides

* The spirit of Nguzo Saba,
by Jonathan Gramling

* Dealing with prostate cancer,
by Steve Braunginn

*
The House of Blues (and jazz and R&B),
by Jonathan Gramling

* A New Year begins,
by Ramya Kapadia

*
King Coalition: Keeping MLK message of peace and equality alive,
by Laura Salinger

* No more resolutions,
by Pamela Pfeffer
A New Voice for a New Day
Wisconsin State Senator Lena Taylor heads the Judiciary Committee
Reflections/Jonathan Gramling
Imagining Dr. King
Homepage
Archives
Special Martin Luther King Jr. Issue