American public figures due to world acclaim do not get much bigger than Martin Luther King.
MLK was our Mahatma Gandhi.
He was our profit of peace gained over madness and doom by never using violence.
MLK got it. He understood the human mind, the human predicament, the insanity that pushes white people to injustice and hate judging black people by the color of their skin.
MLK’s life was an homage to non-violence, to turning his cheek, to being beaten and arrested, set upon by dogs, and knocked to the ground by powerful streams of water at the hands of white haters.
White America didn’t come easily or willingly to grant black people their rights.
Martin Luther King was the enemy for many white Americans.
But many more white Americans approved of him and what he stood for.
The vast majority of Christian America and Jewish America stood for him and the just cause for equality he waged a life- long battle to achieve.
When he was cut down in the prime of his life in 1968, the nation was teetering somewhat like it teeters today.
The nation was hopelessly divided about Vietnam, about black people, about the anti-war movement. It was a time when men were stacked against women, when blacks were pit- ted against whites, when the rich were against the poor. It was a time when Richard Nixon was president, when the nation’s Capital was besieged by millions of protesters – not just 25,000 or so lunatic followers of President Trump.
At the time MLK was assassinated, Nixon was virtually a prisoner inside the White House.
College kids protesting the Vietnam War were considered communists by the right-wing. The right-wing was strong with George Wallace, the segregationist Alabama governor trying to keep power in the hands of bigoted and violent whites and on and on. King was the enemy to all those who thought that way.
In one year’s time, MLK was assassinated, and then a short time later Robert Kennedy.
These deaths at the hands of lunatic gunmen during hot times were no different from today’s history as it is unrolling in front of us.
This is what makes this year’s MLK anniversary day so important.
MLK’s death was a seismic event. In fact, his life was a seismic event.
Kennedy’s assassination had the feel of a nation falling apart the division was so great.
The night MLK died Kennedy delivered an oration worthy of a Pericles when Black America rioted in all the great cities across the nation. Some of us remember this like yesterday.
Kennedy announced King’s death in Indiana. People in the crowd screamed and cried out with grief. Kennedy himself at the time was running for president. He had months to live. The nation convulsed.
Kennedy spoke of the threat of disillusion and divisiveness at King’s death and reminded the audience of King’s efforts to “replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand with compassion and love.” Kennedy acknowledged that many in the audience would be filled with anger, especially since the assassin was believed to be a white man. He empathized with the audience by referring to the assassination of his brother, United States President John F. Kennedy, by a white man. The remarks surprised Kennedy aides, who had never heard him speak of his brother’s death in public. Quoting the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus, with whom he had become acquainted through his brother’s widow, Jacqueline Kennedy, Kennedy said, “Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”
Kennedy then delivered remarks many of us remember to this day: “What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness, but is love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice towards those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.” To conclude, Kennedy, reiterated his belief that the country needed and wanted unity between blacks and whites and encouraged the country to “dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and to make gentle the life of this world.”
Who in government talks this way today when so much is at risk? No one. Who would listen to such profound words much less understand them in today’s America? Not many.
He finished by asking the audience members to pray “for our country and for our people. Rather than exploding in anger at the tragic news of King’s death, the crowd exploded in applause and enthusiasm for a second time, before dispersing quietly.
Martin Luther King was a giant of the 20th Century. We must never forget that.