Friday, April 04, 2008

Dreams of the 1960s That Should Never Die

Today is the 40th Anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I just got back from a trip to North Carolina. Of the Southern states I've been to, North Carolina and the city of New Orleans are the only places I'd seriously consider moving to in the South. I love the feeling of the Charlotte/Hickory/Shelby areas, where both sides of my parents families lived while they were growing up. (They are originally from Georgia and Tennessee.) My parents never much liked to talk about their family's roots. I never knew if it was because they didn't really know, wanted to break with the past, or didn't want to delve into it since I didn't find out I was adopted until I was 33. Probably the less questions asked, the better.

I remember always traveling down to North Carolina or Tennessee as a kid. I loved leaving Detroit, getting in the car and heading down home, though at times, when I had to take a wee wee, dad wouldn't stop. He was one of those kinds of "gotta test my limits to see how quickly I can make it to the destination with sleep or stopping" dads. You know the kind of dads I'm talking about!

I was in North Carolina in July visiting my father's relatives; this time, I visited my mother's relatives. July was a family reunion at a hotel, so we only went to visit one relative out of town; this time I saw three or four folks, mostly my mom's age, including one of my mother's grade school friends. At almost every home were photographs, or shrines, of sorts to five individuals: Malcolm X, Robert Kennedy, John F. Kennedy, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King, Jr. These relatives were older African-Americans, one a Vietnam veteran. I remember during the 1970s and traveling down there that almost everyone had some picture of the Kennedys and King, at least, somewhere in their homes. I was surprised to find that 40 years later, they still do. It might be different relatives, but nonetheless, the same icons.

Mandela was imprisoned in 1963 and freed 27 years later; King and Bobby were killed in 1968; John F. much earlier in 1963; Malcolm in 1965. One by one, these dreams of the 1960s were picked off, as if a bullet or a jail could actually stop a dream. Boy, where the assholes who pulled these triggers and locked that cell door, wrong.

At times, I get pretty sick of the 1960s and the neverending struggle between conservatives and liberals from that decade constantly at war with each other. They never solve any problems, they just outshout and outdo, the other. I'm pretty tired of it. However, there are some dreams from the 1960s that should never die:

The dream of freedom for the oppressed
The dream of the poor being lifted from poverty
The dream that all men and women are created equal
The dream of human dignity
The dream of ending a meaningless war

Some dreams just can't be stopped with bullets. It might slow down the progress for a bit, but never stop it completely.

If you do just one thing to commemorate King's death, let it be this: take time to revisit the 23:00 minute speech that King gave in his opposition to the Vietnam War at my old work stomping grounds, the Riverside Church in the City of New York. It's powerful stuff and an excellent reminder that sometimes the pulpit is the only place to get a dream out (just ask the pro-lifers...). And sometimes, because no one is quite paying attention, you have to shout, "God Damn America" to get anyone to listen.

Of course, King didn't say those exact words, but he came pretty damned close.

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