Photo by Catrina Francis
The MLK monument in Washington, D.C.
What would MLK think about today’s climate?
Had Martin Luther King Jr., survived the assassins bullet April 4, 1968, he would have celebrated his 92nd birthday Friday.
I’ve often wondered if he had lived what would he think about America’s post-Civil Rights Movement and his “dream.”
Would he believe that his dream had come to fruition? On the other hand, would he believe that his dream has become a nightmare?
In many aspects, MLK’s dream has come to fruition and he was able to see some of that before his death. Although he saw the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965, King never had an opportunity to experience the rights that are guaranteed in the Constitution.
Prior to his death, King’s ideology had shifted from civil rights and he began the “Poor People’s Campaign.” In November 1967, King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference organized the campaign, which would address issues of economic justice and housing for the poor in the U.S. The campaign’s aim was the rebuilding of America’s cities. It wasn’t aimed at poor African Americans; it addressed all poor people.
While waging this campaign, King realized that he was fighting an uphill battle with Congress, as its focus was the military because our country was fighting the war in Vietnam. King was very vocal, critical and against the country being in this war.
I remember taking a Black History class as a sophomore in high school, which was before King’s birthday was named a federal holiday, and I recall my teacher saying the best thing that happened to King was his assassination. I was a bit baffled as to why my teacher would utter such nonsense. He went on to explain what he meant. He believed King was entering a time in his life where he was possibly becoming irrelevant. He had established the Poor People’s Campaign and at the time of his death, he was in Memphis for the city’s African-American sanitation workers who were seeking higher wages and better treatment.
I had to take a moment and think about that statement. Had King become irrelevant? If he were, I don’t believe he would have remained irrelevant. I believe he would have been even more vocal about the war in Vietnam and some of the civil unrest in the country.
Although King believed, change would come about through nonviolent means; groups such as the Black Panthers (although formed before King died) came to prominence after his death. I believe King would have attempted to work with the members and show them nonviolence does work. Who knows, maybe he would have joined them. Maybe he wouldn’t have adopted all the tenets of the group’s ideology, but I believe he would have had a better understanding.
When I think about the nation’s events in the last year, I think King would be on the front lines marching and protesting. However, I think the protests would be quite different. King would no longer say let’s hold hands and sing “We Shall Overcome.” I believe the message would be stronger. I don’t know what he would say but I do think his rhetoric would be stronger because he would see how things really haven’t progressed at the rate he wanted.
We’ve progressed but there has also been so much failure and this would make part of his dream a nightmare.
Although African Americas are 13.2% of the U.S. population, they make up 23.8% of those who live in poverty, according to the Census Bureau. I don’t believe King would be happy with those numbers. These numbers show his People’s Campaign was a failure.
I also believe he would be saddened by the soaring crime rate in our urban areas and the high dropout rate among African-American males, which is almost 3% higher than African-American females.
King wouldn’t understand how a generation who benefitted from equal education could fail so miserably. The generations after segregation never experienced separate but equal. They all had the benefit of receiving the same education of their counterparts. I also believe he wouldn’t be able to understand these numbers because he grew up during a time of segregation, yet he graduated with a doctorate from Boston University. His thinking might have been if I can struggle and become educated under some of the harshest conditions, why can’t these young people get it together to graduate high school and college. Nevertheless, it’s not the same. King would realize that there is a direct correlation to poverty and crime, which affects education.
I know I’m included in the generation who had it much easier than our parents did. I never experienced segregated schools, but my parents, who were born and raised in the South, Mississippi to be more precise, know all too well the meaning of separate but equal.
Because of this, I was told that with each generation there shall be improvement. My mother and grandfather stressed education. My grandfather believed in King’s dream. In addition, he knew that dream would happen if his grandchildren were educated.
I must admit I haven’t always believed and followed King’s ideology, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve been able to look at the big picture and understand what King meant when he said, “Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
Pentagram Editor Catrina Francis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Catrina Francis