Today as we remember the selfless efforts of Martin Luther King Jr. we stand on the shoulders of giants as we march forward “to narrow the gap between promise of our ideals and the reality of their time” (Obama, from “A More Perfect Union” Click HERE for speech video and manuscript)
Last night I was invited to lecture on the Civil Rights Movement at our local college in the Valley. It was an amazing experience. In preparation for last night, I read as much as I could get my hands on. One of the things I stressed, and stressed and then overemphasized was that the events that happened in the 50’s and 60’s affect us today. And if history repeats itself then what we do today will affect our society 50 years from now. This is a call to action for us today, from issues of race, environment, politics, and peace to name a few. To qoute a contemporary voice, “we are our brother’s keeper, we are our sister’s keeper”.
Last night we defined ‘freedom’ and ‘justice’. More specifically we looked at the opposite of justice, – ‘injustice’. I asked questions of the time, of how non-whites were treated and asked, “What is it called when people killed others and were then acquitted?” – Injustice. “What is it called when a school board spends $179 per white child and only spends $43 per non-white child? – injustice. We followed this pattern of questioning to set up the situation and feeling of despair felt by non-white citizens during the 40’s through 60’s and presumably before then and after that.
I suggested that the every movement begins with an idea, a belief a hope, often times in reaction to, or resisting the current way of life. For the Civil Rights Movement it was a reaction to the way non-whites were viewed (as less than equal) and consequently treated. I talked about the resistance of non-violence. I was able to use an illustration from the Bible. When Jesus says, “But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. (Matt. 5:39)” It was Jesus command to stand against the Empire in a non-violent, yet extremely effective way. Turning the other cheek in the first century would mean that you turn your left cheek to other person, and they would be forced to punch you with a closed fist- you would only ever hit an equal in the face with a closed fist. The demonstrations led by Martin Luther King Jr. were creative non-violent ways to stand against the empire (the dominant framing story of the 50’s and 60’s). It is men like Martin Luther King Jr. who fought for the rights of the “disinherited” and have consequently made if possible for people like me to have the possibilities I have had in education and career options.
I could keep writing on this topic. If you would like a refresher on the Civil Rights movement I could forward you my presentation notes.