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Lincoln Herald | Lincolnton, NC

home : opinion : opinion May 30, 2020

1/21/2020 8:23:00 AM
Thoughts On MLK Day 2020
Anthony Bunch recited the
Anthony Bunch recited the "I Have A
Dream" speech at the program Monday
afternoon at the Lincoln Cultural Center.

(Lincoln Herald Staff Photo)

+ view more photos
Stanley Mayor Steve Denton,
Pastors George Eubanks and
Rev. Claude Williams  

(Photo Courtesy Bill Ward Photography)

Lincoln Herald Staff
Bill Ward Photography
Kirk Herbertson

Wayne Howard
Staff Writer

As I joined in the Lincoln County events that marked the celebration of the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, I thought often about those years when he was the principal spokesperson for the civil rights movement in America.

Like the Vietnam War, Dr. King's history is just that--history, seen in movies, read about in books--to those who are too young to remember the days of the struggle and the times that led up to it.

I lived through those times.  I remember when schools were segregated, when people of color weren't able to eat at area restaurants; if they wanted food from one, they had to come to the back door to get it and take it with them.  I remember separate bathrooms for white and 'colored.'  

I remember when Dr. Boyce Griggs had two waiting rooms in his office on the second floor on Main Street--one for the whites and the other for black patients.  I remember when one of the two funeral homes didn't bury black folk.  I remember when the Century Theater had a separate entrance that went to the balcony and blacks were expected to watch movies there--not on the main floor with whites.  

Unlike some who will tell you that racism was never present in their family, I remember when my parents favored gubernatorial candidate I. Beverly 
Lake, a segregationist.  I remember my father telling me that his father, my grandfather, had given him a whipping for calling a black man 'sir.'  

On Facebook this morning (Jan. 21st) I saw a post from one white Lincoln Countian who said, "I'm tired of all this MLK stuff.  He never did anything for me!"  He was correct.  Dr. King DID do something for those whites who were finally awakened to the fact that their parents, grandparents, teachers and white society in general had been lying to them all those years.  Worst thing was: they believed the lies.

As I listened to the many comments celebrating Dr. King and his accomplishments, I remembered the 'whole' story--the one many don't know.  Dr. King was certainly the major spokesman for the civil rights movement--but he didn't accomplish things alone.  The March on Washington in 1963, where he delivered (for a second, and perhaps third time) his "I Have A Dream" speech, was actually more the idea of A. Philip Randolph, who had organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1925--before King was born.  In 1941, he led protests that got President Franklin Roosevelt to ban discrimination in the defense industries during World War II.  In 1948, he pressured President Harry Truman into banning discrimination in the military.  

Just as important to the March was Bayard Rustin, a gay black man who was the target FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover tried to use to block King's efforts and the march.  

The heroes of the civil rights movement also included Jewish Americans who suffered some of the same discrimination as blacks.  Because they joined in the freedom rides and marches, newspapers and television took notice and the nation was suddenly confronted with the reality of what had been happening for years but had been kept quiet or ignored.  The role of the news media in the civil rights movement was every bit as powerful as any other efforts.

In those years of turmoil in the `960s that saw the March on Washington, passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in `965, the Black Panthers emerged.  Most whites believed they were purely a militant group wanting to do battle with whites, and there was evidence to support that opinion; but they were much more.  Even before the Panthers were organized in 1966, some blacks had already turned to violence in the fear that nothing else would work.  While Dr. King was still alive, I read Eldridge Cleaver's "Soul On Ice," and realized the validity of his statement that "Lyndon Johnson was willing to deal with Martin Luther King because he didn't want to have to deal with me."  

Dr. King didn't resort to violence.  He felt it was not only wrong--it was likely to cause more violence as a backlash.  Instead, he preached (and practiced) non-violence.  Once a reporter asked him if he got the idea from Gandhi, the Indian leader who used non-violent protest as a tool in the fight to free his country from English rule.  He replied, "No, not from Gandhi...from Jesus Christ."

It was noted more than once in weekend remarks by those on the programs for the MLK Day observance that the battle for civil rights isn't over.  Attitudes of racism still exist, the criminal justice system doesn't treat blacks (or Hispanics, other minorities, or poor whites) the same way it does those forunate enough to belong to the higher echelons of society. [Personally, I won't say the Pledge of Allegiance without adding to the line "...with liberty and justice for all" the words 'may it someday be true'--because it isn't yet.]

Fortunately, there are those people for whom Dr. King's legacy DID do something--it opened the door for a new day in which we can truly have a world in which race, religion, national origin, etc. aren't the measure of a person.  

Contrary to what some may believe (and what several said at events over the weekend and even Dr. King in his famous oration), the founding fathers who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution didn't really believe that all are 'created equal.'  They didn't mean African-Americans, they didn't mean women--they meant people like themselves.  Some of us have managed to throw off the shackles of our history.  We now understand that what our parents and grandparents and teachers taught us because they believed it wasn't true.  It isn't that they were 'bad' people--they had been raised on the same lies they passed along to us.  In the words of Maya Angelou, "we did the best we knew how; now we know better, we can do better."

Keep the dream alive.  That's the best way to celebrate Dr. King's life and legacy. Day celebration in Stanley supplied by photographer Bill Ward acoompany this article.

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