By Barney Blakeney
It’s the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and I’m just getting around to writing something about the celebration of that great man’s life and work. I’m not much for celebrating holidays anyway, but King’s day usually is a work day for me. I think he actually asked that people remember him not with monuments and holidays, but with work to achieve his ‘dream’.
For years as the King Holiday approached my former editor, Jim French, would assign me a story asking whether King’s dream has been realized. Knowing the answer, he’d emphasize how easy writing it would be. It never was. Although King’s dream obviously hasn’t been realized – and may not be for some time to come – milestones toward its realization have been achieved.
But perhaps more blatantly than at any other time during the 50 years since King’s assassination, American society today demonstrates that King’s dream sometimes is a nightmare. The number of hate crimes is on the increase. January 20, worshippers from Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa. joined worshippers at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. In June 2015, nine worshippers at Emanuel were gunned down in a hate crime. Last October 11, people attending a baby naming at Tree of Life were gunned down in another hate crime.
According to a 2017 Post Nation news story, “There were more than 6,100 reported incidents of hate crimes in 2016, up from more than 5,800 the year before … The number of hate crimes increased for a second consecutive year, and as was the case in 2015, the largest share of victims last year — nearly 6 in 10 — were targeted because of bias against the victim’s race or ethnicity.”
While looking for info to use for this column I ran across something I wrote last year. It said, “Several years ago in a local publication one commentator said, “Now that Barack Obama has successfully won and is now the President of the U.S.A., this should be the light that shines on a new America. I believe we have surpassed, as a whole society, the inequalities that the NAACP needed to stand for. For a group to put its main focus on race, when racism isn’t tolerated in today’s mainstream society, only works divisively and negatively.”
The commentator was trying to say there no longer is any need for civil rights organizations; essentially, King’s dream has been realized. But recently the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute rescinded a decision to present iconic civil rights activist Angela Davis its Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award. The award is named for Shuttlesworth, a pioneer of the civil rights movement in Birmingham, Ala. who led Birmingham’s battle against segregation.
Shuttlesworth personally challenged just about every segregated institution in the city — from schools and parks to buses, even the waiting room at the train station. When an Alabama judge outlawed the NAACP, Shuttlesworth founded the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. A year later, he helped create the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute rescinded Davis’ award because she has been affiliated with such civil rights advocates as the Black Panther Party and supports Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, an organization that supports human rights for Palestinians. Seems to me that’s just what Shuttlesworth’s work represented – advocating for those who suffer discrimination based or race, ethnicity or religious beliefs. They obviously think Angie hasn’t awakened to the reality of King’s dream.
There are more than enough examples of King’s dream deferred in today’s America. Donald Trump may be a face of racial discrimination, but he isn’t alone. The August 2017 race riot in Charlottesville, Va. that left one woman dead was a glaring example of how many more exhibit that discrimination. Alarmingly a January 18 confrontation during a series of protest rallies at the Washington Mall in D.C. gives me cause for concern that King’s dream likely will continue to be deferred.
There may be varying perceptions of the video recorded confrontation between an 11th grade catholic school student and a Native American elder, but what I saw was a snot-nosed kid totally disrespecting a man old enough to be his grandfather. The kid from Kentucky was there for a pro-life rally and the old man there for an indigenous people’s rally. A complex set of circumstances brought the two together, but the kid wearing a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat smirking inches away from the old man’s face makes me ask what we are teaching our young people. If that kid’s actions are any indication of what America will be like in the future, King’s dream indeed may become a nightmare.
King was killed some 50 years ago in Memphis, Tenn. while advocating for the economic and human rights of sanitation workers in that city. Last month Charleston offered its sanitation workers a minimum wage of $12 per hour. That equals about $25,000 annually. I wonder what that amounts to in 1968 dollars. I’m guessing it’s pretty much the same amount of money.
So what of King’s dream? I’m thinking that too is about the same. It’s still a dream.