I was six years old when he was murdered. Old enough to have been aware of such a cataclysmic event – yet I have no memory at all of the day Martin Luther King was assassinated. The fact that I lived, then, in one of the whitest corners of NYC may have had something to do with this. Truth be told, though, I don’t have an overabundance of any memories at that age… just broad brushstrokes of feelings, some Vine-like snippets of grainy video, with a few snapshots of people and places. I can’t even be sure that those are bonafide memories, and not artifacts of my own personal historical record, inserted much later.
As I thought about this man whom we honor today with a national holiday, my mind drifted away from his own historical record and toward the man, just a man in the midst of such a storm. Martin was 39 years old on the day he was killed. I’m now far enough past 39 to realize how young he was. Far too young to die. And seemingly far too young to have accomplished so much.
We often hear that the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice. President Obama has noted that “it doesn’t bend by itself”. I think it would be fair to say that MLK swung on that moral arc and put a serious crease in it. American society was infested with the most virulent, violent racism in the 1950s and 1960s. It’s hard to watch the newsreels showing the white faces twisted with hatred, the fire hoses and police dogs, the lynchings, the bombings. The thing that astonishes me is how this 30-something man fought this unchecked violence with something called non-violence. I know this Baptist preacher belived in god, but he had to have had an extraordinary faith in his fellow man to think that strategy could possibly work. He was smart, he was determined, he was patient – and he won.
How do I know he won? America was an inferno of racist hatred in those days. It has continued to smolder, like the underground coal fires in Pennsylvania. There have been flare-ups and brushfires of white-hot hate since we elected our first black president. But it comes from a small, noisy subset of American society and politics. They have to speak mostly in code – and mostly on Fox “News”. Elsewhere, they are pushed back or ignored entirely. Oh, and in the meantime, Barack Obama was elected, and then reelected, with broad and historic levels of support. I count that as a win.
There’s a picture of MLK that we don’t see very often at all. In fact, it took me a little bit of digging to find it on Google. It’s not a photo of the man at a march or a protest or in prayer or speechifying. It’s a photo of the man smiling. Just smiling, laughing, at a joke or upon meeting an old friend. It’s nice to see, isn’t it? I hope he knew that he gave all of us a lot to smile about.
This photo of
makes me happy.
Day 014 #100happydays