By Beverky Gadson-Birch
It was April 4, 1968, fifty years ago, when Dr. King was assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee where he went in support of the striking sanitation workers.
If you are old enough to remember the King’s assassination, you should also remember where you were when you got the news. Where were you? What have you done to carry out the dream?
Some of you are still caught up in the time tunnel of 1968. You haven’t done anything since ’68. Instead of continuing the fight for equality, you got caught up in materialism and de facto “insanity”.
Oftentimes, when we think of the Movement, we think of it as past tense. It’s gone, done, finished! The Movement was not a span of time in history that has accumulated dust somewhere in a museum.
A Movement is an endless challenge of an oppressive system—a system that continues to perpetuate hate, discriminates, and violates the rights of those whom she has vowed to protect.
The thing that disturbs me most about Dr. King’s followers is everyone wanted to be associated with the “Dreamer” even after his death but so few wants to be associated with the “Dream”.
A true leader is one who shines bright even when the spotlight isn’t shining on him. A true leader is one who stands tall in the face of adversity even when it is not popular. A true leader seeks no recognition for himself but elevates those around him. A true leader is one who begins his day with “we” and not “I”. You never have to second guess a true leader; just look for the battle scars.
In 1963, more than 250,000 people came from all walks of life and from across the country to the nation’s capital to demand equality for blacks. The featured speaker for the day was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who will long be remembered for his most memorable “I Have a Dream” speech.
One of those marchers in 1963 was John Lewis, a young man from Alabama and organizer of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). John Lewis went on to serve on Atlanta’s City Council and now serves the state of Georgia as a U. S. Congressman.
Congressman Lewis is perhaps the only surviving speaker from the 1963 March on Washington. Unlike much of us from that period, Congressman Lewis has not lost his flavor or zest for the disenfranchised. He is still speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves. Congressman John Lewis is a true leader. He has the battle scars to prove it.
Are we moving forward, or are we moving backwards? I see changes and I see complacency.
When we had less, we appreciated it more. When we didn’t have fine cars, we were healthier because we walked. When we didn’t have big fine homes, we spent quality time with our families. When we didn’t have good paying jobs, we paid more money in the church. When we couldn’t afford clothes to wear, we made our own. When we didn’t have an advocate for our civil rights, we supported and attended SCLC, NAACP and NAN meetings.
When we couldn’t afford to eat in restaurants, we ate at home and said grace. When we wanted to find out what was going on in the Black community, we subscribed to a black newspaper out of Baltimore, Maryland called the Afro-American Newspaper.
Now, we don’t care what is going on in our communities. We won’t support The Chronicle—the only black newspaper in Charleston. We won’t buy The Chronicle to keep up with what is going on in your community; but, you can’t wait until Sunday to get a free edition of The Chronicle to get your gossip on and stir up some mess.
When we didn’t have books and computers, we went to the library. Now we don’t read anything. When our children stepped out of line, we corrected them then. We didn’t wait or promise to punish later. It was strip down, get a switch and it was on, right there, right then.
When our preachers came to town to preach, we gave them our best. Yes sir, preachers couldn’t eat out of no paper plates and drink out of no jelly jars. No sir!!
Correct me if I am wrong. Y’all ate after the pastor was finished eating and your meal consisted of chicken neck and back. Perhaps that is why I still like chicken necks. We had plenty of preachers in the family, so plenty of preachers ate at our family home.
In segregated schools, when black teachers taught, we dare not interrupt class. If you did, that would be your first and last time. The fear of punishment was just too great that children seldom stepped out of line.
My question to you today is, “what have you done to make King’s dream a reality”?
You can’t just talk the talk. You can’t stand on the sidewalk and watch the “Movement” as it passes by. One of the reasons why all hell broke loose in the wilderness is the same reason why all hell is breaking loose in the world today: lack of relevant laws or respect thereof. Just because you have a fine car, home and money in the bank, don’t think you have arrived. If you think so, just disregard everything that I said in this article because you are just too far gone to make a difference. You may slay the “Dreamer” but the “Dream” lives on.