Monday, January 18, 2016

The Unvarnished King & The Dream

My guess is many of you reading this had today off in recognition of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; the wheels of the real estate industry roll on so it was a work day for me.

Fortunately there was some excellent MLK Day programming to listen along to online throughout the day on and I got to hear some really insightful topic discussions revolving around some of the same socioeconomic issues that Dr. King addressed more than forty seven years ago.

Which is both fascinating and troubling.

Some interesting excerpts from WNYC's 10th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration held this past weekend were played on this morning's edition of  The Brian Lehrer Show.

The event was held at the Apollo in Harlem and I think WNYC did an excellent job of truly honoring King's legacy and mission by focusing on issues that are both topical and current including the impact of institutional racism on schools, access to higher education and justice - and the struggle of American society to recognize and acknowledge White Privilege.

One of the most interesting segments today was Terry Gross' Fresh Air interview with Regina Mason, who's great-great-great grandfather William Grimes wrote what is now considered one of the very first slave narratives published in America in 1825, "Life of William Grimes, The Runaway Slave." 

Mason discovered Grimes after years of family history research and as our own family's resident historian, I was moved by her story and understand the the challenges of finding out details of African-American ancestors who were born into slavery in the United States before 1850.

As Mason observed in her interview today, the existence of Grimes' book and her subsequent efforts to connect with the descendants of the slave-holding family who owned her great-great-great grandfather, helped to bring into reality Dr. King's "dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood."

Dr. King remains one of the greatest and most influential figures in American history; possibly the world.

One who undoubtedly deserves a federal holiday and, in my humble opinion, the argument could be made that his image should be chiseled onto the face of Mount Rushmore alongside those of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt.

If Washington is regarded as the father of our nation, surely King can be considered its conscience.

So for understandable reasons there is a tendency to deify King in this country and view him more as a mythical figure than as a man.

One of the most interesting pieces on King I read today came from essayist Chauncey DeVega, who reminded readers of his blog Indomitable today that during his life, King was frequently viewed as a radical and an enemy - particularly after he began to speak out publicly against the Vietnam War in 1967.

From the vantage point of 2015, it's remarkable to read the list of politicians and activists (see the link directly above) who publicly berated or even reviled King when his opposition to the war in Southeast Asia turned major American newspapers including The New York Times, Washington Post and leading African-American newspapers against him.

DeVega cites a fascinating article by Obery M. Hendricks posted earlier today on entitled, "The 'Macroethics' of Martin Luther King, Jr.: When He Spoke Out Against the Vietnam War Even His Supporters Deserted Him - Here's How He Endured." 

If you take the time to read anything on King today, I'd suggest you check out Hendricks' piece.

For later generations for whom the civil rights struggles of the 40's, 50's and 60's exist as distant history, King will arguably best be remembered less for leading non-violent protests against segregated housing in places like Cicero, Illinois, or for labor rights for African-American sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee - but for "The Speech".

King's "I Have a Dream" speech remains one of the most significant and moving pieces of American oratory in the nations history; on par with Lincoln's speech at Gettysburg in the pantheon of U.S. history as far as I'm concerned.

One that encapsulates the vision of a complex and learned thinker in one speech.

Dr. King, August 28, 1963 [Photo - Bob Adelman]
Back in December of 2007 when I was still first trying out the blog as an online platform to share my thoughts, I wrote one of my first blogs about Dr. King after hearing an interview with photographer Bob Adelman on The Tavist Smiley Show.

Adelman, a Long Island, New York native, helped to chronicle the civil rights struggle with his photos and was taking pictures of King at the podium on August 28, 1963 as the speech was being delivered.

That's one of Adelman's iconic photos (pictured above) of King towards the end of the speech as he's shouting the words, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

According to Adelman who was there and shot three rolls of King at the podium (you can see how close he was), about twelve minutes into the speech as the applause swelled after a moving passage, gospel legend Mahalia Jackson, (who was seated near King on the podium during the speech and was the only woman),  overcome with emotion by the passage, yelled out to King, "Tell  'em about the dream Martin!"

Adelman said that in response, King took his speech, folded the papers up and put them in his pocket, and proceeded to deliver the remaining approximately five minutes and eighteen seconds of the actual "I Have a Dream" section of the speech totally off the cuff without notes.

Jackson was close to King and was a long-time supporter of the movement and Adelman suggested that King's "Dream" was a topic he'd spoken about privately with Jackson before.

Regardless, the knowledge that Dr. King delivered those words straight from the heart, without notes still gives me goosebumps, as a writer who loves words it leaves me astounded.

During a pivotal moment of American history on a hot summer day with the statue of Abraham Lincoln looking down and the eyes of world watching in awe; a timeless example of the unvarnished King.

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