Pearls & Vodka

MLK Day: What side of history will be on?

Welcome to Magnolia Musings, the new Monday format at Pearls & Vodka!

Mondays will focus on the happenings of the news or the world around us. Today is a special day in that it is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Going forward you can expect Mondays to focus on the news in our world and our hopefully nuanced take on the issues being reported.

And with that, here is Magnolia Musings first edition, dedicated to the life of Martin Luther King Jr, and his family:

On April 15, 1929, Alberta Williams King and her husband Reverend Martin Luther King Sr. welcomed their second child, their first son, Martin Luther King Jr. He was born at their quaint home in Atlanta, Georgia; the younger brother of Christine King, and soon to be, the older brother of Alfred Daniel Williams King. Born to a family of preachers and sharecroppers, Martin married Coretta Scott in June of 1953 at his family’s home in Marion, Alabama. Martin and Coretta went on to have four children of their own: Yolanda, Martin Luther III, Dexter Scott, and Bernice. [1]

Many know of Martin Luther King Jr. for his famous speech, “I Have a Dream.” Some know of his assassination in April of 1968. What many fail to remember is what happened in between his dashes. You know the dashes I am talking about, born in 1929 DASH (-) died in 1968. The DASH is everything that happens between the time we arrive, and the time we depart. The Bible says there is a time to be born and a time to die.

King was inspired by the nonviolent activism of Mahatma Ghandi. He was dedicated to the teachings of Jesus Christ, as a Baptist minister. King spent just under 13 years as the leader of the modern American Civil Rights Movement. Many found the path of violence, and forcefully addressing their opinions, as their chosen methodology. King found that there was more power in words and nonviolent acts like protests, grassroots organization, and civil disobedience. His goals seemed insurmountable, but his passion was zealous.

King’s guiding principle was that men and women everywhere, regardless of color or creed, are equal members of the human family.

King is widely remembered as the author and orator of the “I Have a Dream” speech, garnering his Nobel Peace Prize, and his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

King served as the spokesperson for the Montgomery Bus Boycott that forced integration of the Montgomery, Alabama bus lines. He led the nonviolent campaign aimed at Birmingham, Alabama, the most segregated city at the time, which led to unprecedented civil rights legislation. King was the driving force behind the March for Jobs and Freedom, more widely known as the March on Washington, where he delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech. This March is credited with the landmark civil rights legislation that eliminated legalized racial segregation. The March from Selma to Montgomery led by King led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that eliminated the remaining barriers to voting for African-Americans.

Outside of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, James Earl Ray assassinated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. King’s death led to riots throughout the United States. Ray fled the country and was arrested two months later in London’s Heathrow Airport and sentenced to 99 years in prison.

King wrote in the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” these words, “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

These words were written in another decade in time. But echo into the bloodstream of society today.

I often wonder if MLK would be astounded that we still struggle with some of the same issues today that we did in the 50s and 60s; or if he would simply nod his head and continue his march. My heart tells me that a man like King would know that though his journey is to reach the “mountain-top” his mission is to walk the path of betterment, every day, no matter the obstacles.

Our news casts and Twitter feeds are full of issues dealing with racism today, and probably every day since King’s death. One would think we would have made more progress as a nation. And some can argue that we have.

In 1967, Loving vs. Virginia was decided. This landmark civil rights decision of the Supreme Court invalidated laws that prohibited interracial marriage. As someone who is in an interracial marriage, I will never take for granted the work of Martin Luther King. Jr. that led to this decision that allowed me to marry the man of my dreams.

In the summer of 2002, I had the privilege to spend some time with members of the King family. I spent a day in Atlanta with Martin Luther King III and Bernice King. We had the honor of taking a private tour of the King Center and a trip over to Ebenezer Baptist Church where MLK Jr. and Sr. were former pastors. During the time of our visit, MLK III was only the 4th President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He told us countless stories of being picked on as a child, stories that have resonated with me more not that I have a child who is biracial. I learned a valuable lesson from him that day. He told us the story of being eight years old and being continually bullied by a Caucasian boy in his class. The little boy who bullied him happened to love to draw and one day MLK III complimented his drawing. From that day forward that child never said a cross word to MLK III again.

Words are powerful and kindness can soften even the hardest of hearts.

It also struck me at the bullying at such a young age, it further validated the idea that racism is taught.

But the King family taught me that day, and every day since, that kindness is also taught.

Bernice King was only five years old when her father was murdered. At 17 she was asked to speak before the United Nations.

Bernice spoke about losing her father at such a young age and being unable to process the loss until she was a teenager. Once the reality set in, she went through the grief cycles of anger at her father for leaving them. I had no idea that 4 years later I would lose my own father and understand more the sentiment of actually being angry about being left behind.

The King children, like all children, have faced their struggles. They’ve endured tremendous loss with their father’s assassination, their sister’s death, their uncle’s death, their own grandmother, MLK Jr.’s mother, was shot and killed as well. They remind me of the Scripture, “to whom much is given, much is expected.” Bernice said to us that day, she lost a lot with her father’s death so early in her life, but he left her so much.

Today on this celebration of MLK Jr.’s birthday, I wonder, what are we doing with what we have been given?

There is no doubt on which side of history Martin Luther King Jr. stood. His life is defined by the social change he marched for and the equality he gave his life for. His memorials are marked with the words of optimism, hope, acceptance, love and kindness.

What would a memorial to you be marked with?

What side of history are you standing on?

Does your Twitter feed side with equality, justice and the common good?

Does your Facebook call out racism 24/7? Or just on MLK day?

If you find yourself on the wrong side of history today, why?

And I assure you friends, siding with racism and inequality, is the wrong side of history.

What are you afraid of?

What will accepting someone different than you do to you?

MLK Jr. once asked, “Will we be extremists for hate or for love?”

So which is it for you? It’s a simple question with enormous impact.

What will you teach your children?

Will you teach your children that love knows no bounds? Or will you teach your children that love exists when people are the same color as you, same creed?

Racism looks slightly different today than it did during King’s time on Earth.

The faces are different. The manner in which it is carried out is sometimes different. The crazy thing is back then racists covered their faces with hoods. Today they parade themselves on national television and broadcast their hatred on social media with no hood.

 

I’ll never understand what it is like to be taught to hate someone based on their color. I just wasn’t raised that way. And I’ll never understand what it is like to teach that same hate to a child.

What I do have some understanding of today is what it’s like to be fearful in small town, south Arkansas, of a “skinhead” in a bar when you and your black husband are just having a drink and hanging out quietly by yourselves. I do understand what it is like to have your 2 year old son enjoy a little friend’s company who has parents who refuse for them to be friends. I know a lot about walking into an establishment holding hands with my African American husband and feeling the stares from around the room.

But what I also have some understanding of is knowing that God loves us all the same, He created us all equally, justice will be His forever, and that there is a special place in Hell for those who mistreat others.

I hope one day to have the fortitude to walk with such profound kindness, yet strength, as Martin Luther King Jr.

I’ve got a little bit of a temper in me that wants to fight for what I believe is right, maybe not with my hands but sometimes with my words. So today, I remind myself of the words of Martin Luther King Jr. and more importantly, our Savior Jesus Christ.

I’ll continue to try and kill them with kindness and I’ll continue to teach my son that ALL men are created EQUAL.

[1] http://www.thekingcenter.org/about-dr-king

Photo by Jerónimo Bernot on Unsplash