Today, the social climate of our country easily embraces the patriotic thrill of fighting for liberty in far-off lands and passionately supports those who fight for liberty elsewhere.
However, the current climate seems to trivialize, even scoff at, those who championed liberty here at home throughthe Civil Rights Movement.
It is the birthday of Martin Luther King, and we honor him for his spectacular leadership in that fight.
Sadly, it seems we have not recently seen leaders with such conviction, clarity, passion, and ability to ignite righteousness in others. And yet, today, ironically at the same time we celebrate Dr. King’s birth, we have an exciting new opportunity with the inauguration of President Obama, whom we all turn to with hope for new leadership.
The disturbing trend to mock this holiday and the Civil Rights Movement is based on many trends that shape our evolving society.
Perhaps a large factor is the raging conservatism that tends to eschew critical examination of history in favor of knee-jerk reactions based on simplistic notions.We seem to have become a nation with many citizens who believe only what could become a comic book caption; simplistic, bombastic sound bites pass for philosophical discussion. Worse, we have citizens who actually build their lives around blathered statements rather than earnest evaluation.
And as such, many citizens, young and old, think the Civil Rights Movement was frivolous, a misguided passion of Hippies.
However, the fight was real, the passion was founded on justice, and the target was the evil assault on humanity that is prejudice.
Many of us lived in the time not long ago when a person could be refused service solely for being an African-American, when they were legally denied the right to vote, when they could be excluded from jobs and education, and when even the right to something as decent as using a restroom could be denied them. A time when they could be lynched without fear of reprisal.
That was the society many of us grew up in; it is our recent past.
The Civil Rights Movement had many paths, created by many people; many were leaders, many more were common folk trying to do the right thing. Many died for their efforts. The Civil Rights Movement in this country was a life-and-death period, similar to wars fought overseas for the liberty of far-off peoples.
Martin Luther King embodied the passions,dedication, and sacrifice of the era.
That era did not end.Tremendous progress was made in the Civil Rights Era, but progress is not elimination. Hatred and rage against people for no other reason than the group they “belong” to is still rampant in society. In the lifetime of teenagers today, they saw a black man killed by being dragged behind a pickup truck, and they saw Matthew Shepard beaten to death on a fence on the plains.
If it were not for the Civil Rights Movement embodied by Martin Luther King, a black man could still be forbidden from attending a school, a gay man could be denied housing, a woman could be denied a job, Muslims could face internment.
The worst parts of human nature–the lazy thinking that gives way to prejudice, the evil self-centeredness that leads to rage against groups of people, the self-imposed isolation that destroys understanding, the simplistic ethno-centric babbling about “us versus them”–continue today. The Civil Rights Movement continues, weakly and leaderless, but as necessary as ever.
The very beginning of our society was framed with these words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” As a society, we often failed to live up to these truths. The Civil Rights Movement and people such as Dr. King fought life-and-death battles to make these truths a reality in our society.
When there were leaders, as embodied by Martin Luther King, there was tremendous progress. We are a much shorter distance from the day when people “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Yes, our society today embraces a self-absorbed approach to life, one that trivializes the reality of past,present, and future, shunning altruism, mocking passion. Yet the dream of Martin Luther King should be just as vibrant a dream today for each one of us.
Absorb Dr. King’s dream, make it your own. It is the right thing to do, and it is as important a dream today as it was in1963.
“I HAVE A DREAM” August 28,1963