#sparkchamber 012119 — honoring Martin Luther King, Jr.
Each year, on the third Monday in January, America celebrates the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Today, on a day set aside to honor him, #sparkchamber takes a stand beside him.
Born in Atlanta, GA on January 15, 1929, young Martin Luther King, Jr. entered Morehouse College at the age of 15. He graduated with a degree in sociology, continuing his education with a bachelor’s degree in divinity from Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, and then a doctorate in theology from Boston University.
He became the pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama in 1954. Already a strong advocate for civil rights — he was a member of the executive committee of the NAACP — Dr. King came to national and international prominence as the leader of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. This year-long, non-violent action began on December 1, 1955, when Rosa Parks took a stand by keeping her seat on the bus despite the segregation laws that made her action illegal. [She recounts in her autobiography, My Story: People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.]
Over the course of the boycott, Dr. King was arrested, subjected to continual personal abuse, and threatened with physical harm; he, along with his wife and young daughter, survived the bombing of their home. Undaunted, he did not stand down, and on December 21, 1956, the U. S. Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the laws requiring segregation on buses. The end of an ordinance, but hardly the end of an era.
Dr. King continued his work as a minister and as an activist, fighting for and witnessing forward progress in the arenas of civil rights and racial equality with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 [outlawing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin], and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 [prohibiting racial discrimination in voting].
On April 4, 1968, in Memphis, TN to lead a protest march in support of striking sanitation workers, Dr. King was shot and killed.
And now here we are. On a day set aside to honor him, at a time when the government is at a standstill, society seems to be moving backwards. Dr. King said, we may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now. He surely meant that as a nation of immigrants, though from different places or of different races, we now all live in the same country, and must all work together for a common vision. A vision defined by the self-evident truth that all men are created equal.
But hearing those words today, the quote takes on another meaning: 50 years later, nothing has changed — we’re still in the very same boat now as we were then. And we’re taking on water.
Key elements of the two landmark legislative victories from the mid-60s are being systematically eroded, struck down, invalidated, eliminated, rolled back. Blatant, unapologetic, extreme examples of voter suppression during the 2018 midterm elections in Georgia, Texas, Florida, and North Dakota surgically targeted historically marginalized groups, i.e., non-white voters. The government is closed down by a self-described “nationalist” president, egged on by a cheer squad in the far-right “news” media repeating lies and projecting conspiracy theories. In March of last year, the Customs and Immigration Service officially rewrote its mission statement. Gone is the inspirational language highlighting “America’s promise as a nation of immigrants,” promoting “awareness and understanding of citizenship” and “ensuring the integrity of our immigration system,” replaced instead with “protecting Americans” and “securing the homeland.”
How did Martin Luther King, Jr. do it? How did he keep pressing forward? Where did he find the strength, the will? He said, we must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope. That’s the thing. It’s the determination, the perseverance. He never lost that hope: I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.
So that is how we will remember him today. Not only for what he did, but for how he did it. Unrelenting. Vigilant. Having faith and working tirelessly. Standing in the light of what is right. Believing unequivocally that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.
[Each the “answers” below are quotes attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.]
Question 1: Where do ideas come from?
You don’t have to see the top of the staircase to take the first step.
Question 2: What is the itch you are scratching?
Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others”
Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.
No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.
Question 3: Early bird or night owl? Tortoise or hare
We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.
Question 4: How do you know when you are done?
Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!