Monday, January 18, 2010

Let Freedom Ring

"When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'" — Martin Luther King, Jr.
What is it with the people who surround me? Simply mention Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in passing, and they roll their eyes as if you just told the worst joke ever. Why? They're not even echoing the old Republican objection that "the establishment of a public holiday to honor a private citizen would be contrary to our country’s longstanding tradition." No, they're too ignorant to even know that much. The disdain of my Caucasian friends and family comes from something else.

I think there is a deep denial or willful ignorance about how King profoundly changed our country with an unyielding belief in peace and justice. How unshakable were his beliefs?

A decade before King was assassinated, Izola Ware Curry attempted to kill King as he sat in a Manhattan department store signing copies of "Stride Toward Freedom." Curry, a part-time maid from Georgia, plunged a letter opener deep into King's chest. King forgave her, and, when asked about the incident, spoke of the urgent necessity for nonviolence to govern the affairs of men.

On January 30, 1956, Martin Luther King, Jr. suffered another tragedy. His home was bombed. After he checked on his family, he said this to the angry crowd:
"Don’t get panicky. Don’t do anything panicky. Don’t get your weapons. If you have weapons, take them home. He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword. Remember that is what Jesus said. We are not advocating violence. We want to love our enemies. I want you to love our enemies. Be good to them. This is what we must live by. We must meet hate with love."
While researching MLK today, I found this rare and forgotten comic book about the Montgomery Bus Boycott. One particular little panel of the comic stands out to me: "if a man can see his home bombed and not fight back -- except with love -- then there is hope for all of us." I have no problem honoring that man.

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