Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Remembering a great dreamer

40 years doesn't sound like a round number, but 40th anniversaries are key. Many times it is the last big anniversary where the majority of the players in an event are still alive. So today, we stop to remember a man and an era that forever changed our history: the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King.

You can still visit the spot. At Christmas, I went to see my parents in Memphis and I took my brother and our respective fiance(e)s on a trip through the historic sites of the city. The Lorraine Motel - now the National Civil Rights Museum - was a must see even though the museum was closed (it was Christmas Eve).

Without a doubt, it is one of the eeriest museums I have ever visited. Just south of all the new construction and development downtown is a relic. Time appears to have stopped at April 4, 1968. It's got the same aqua colored doors and the same model cars that were parked out front. the only thing new is a giant wreath in front of room 306, marking the spot where the Civil Rights leader was slain.

All around the motel life has moved forward, but this place always remembers and tries to shout above the nearby clubs, restaurants and galleries: Something important happened here! Please remember and don't let it die here!

Whether we have fulfilled that mission is a topic for another day. But I'll let history speak for itself, and maybe call you to remember through these images and the following excerpt from Rev. King's "Mountaintop" speech. (Complete audio and text can be found here)

"If I were standing at the beginning of time, with the possibility of taking a kind of general and panoramic view of the whole of human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me, "Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?" ...

Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, "If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the 20th century, I will be happy."

Now that's a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around. That's a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding.

Something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee -- the cry is always the same: "We want to be free."

And another reason that I'm happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we are going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demands didn't force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it's nonviolence or nonexistence. That is where we are today.

And also in the human rights revolution, if something isn't done, and done in a hurry, to bring the colored peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty, their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world is doomed. Now, I'm just happy that God has allowed me to live in this period to see what is unfolding. And I'm happy that He's allowed me to be in Memphis....

Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation....

I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really 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! "

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