January 15–Justice: MLK National Holiday

Forty years ago, I was a senior in high school.  What I “knew” about Martin Luther King, Jr was that he was a “trouble-maker” and “a communist.”  Mostly, I didn’t have many thoughts about him at all, but when his name came up in my community near Birmingham, AL at that time, those were the two phrases.  And, those phrases mattered.

I now know that “trouble-maker” was white racist code for a black human being who was presuming to speak up and speak out.  I knew even then that “a communist” was one of the scariest words around.  I was born during the end of the Korean conflict, was a child when the Bay of Pigs took place in Cuba, grew up during the Cold War, had dinner every night with the Vietnam War on television.  No word inspired fear in Americans back then like “communist.”

In the fall of that year, forty years ago, I went to college, and in that year was required to watch some documentaries that included many of MLK’s speeches.  I remember sitting one night, alone in a media viewing room, watching King and listening to his speeches.  I was overwhelmed with emotion.  The emotions were many things.  My heart and mind swelled with the truth that I knew he was speaking about the human condition, the arc of justice, the inherent dignity that belonged to every human being.  Even as a child, I had questioned what I heard and saw going on around me between white and black people, with few voices who would respond to me, and this man gave voice to it all.  I was also filled with anger that at 19 years old what I knew of this man was a lie and that the movement he led had not until then penetrated my small, safe, white world.

There are so many things that my 19 year old self would not have imagined.  Like a national holiday honoring this “trouble-maker and communist.”  Like electing twice our first President of Color.  And, sadly, following that first President of Color a President who is a racist, a misogynist and a perpetual liar.

I need the reminder of this MLK National Holiday this year more than I ever have, perhaps, in forty years.  Our nation needs this holiday. Damage is being done to the dignity of the nation’s soul and to us as individuals every time we sit in silence and say nothing about what is currently being perpetrated in the name of the American people. Martin Luther King, Jr has shown us what to do, how to be, and he has told us why we must rise up, speak up and show up.

Bob Patrick

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2 Responses to January 15–Justice: MLK National Holiday

  1. Jen Garrison says:

    My Grandddaddy Garrison also called Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr a “trouble maker.” I had a conversation with him on this holiday when I was in 6th grade, telling him about the accomplishments of Black/African-Amercan people throughout the history of America, as I learned in school. My grandfather could not comprehend that Black men and women invented the traffic light, found over 300 uses for the peanut, wrote beautiful poems and plays, and so much more. I am only one generation removed from the Civil Rights Movement, and my parents lived through de-segregation in Gwinnett County schools. That is so hard for me to believe! I grew up around a mixed userstanding, of both the truth of my experience with a variety of people, and the messages of days past (or not so much?). It’s an interesting, albeit disturbing place to be. I want to truly see the content of a person’s character over their skin, but these past voices of hate still ring in my head. I want to trust that my heart’s in the right place. But the voices are hard to shake. My heart wants to see you, call you by name and smile. Oh, can we just get there please!

  2. Peggy Averyt says:

    Your knowledge about MLK is so similar to mine. I heard repeatedly in my home that MLK was a “communist trouble-maker”. It took going away to college before my eyes were opened also. I remember the sadness I felt when the church I had attended since birth voted (while I was in high school) to deny entry to any “colored” folks who might show up at our door. I could not understand how this Baptist church was eager to recruit me as a missionary to go to Africa and save these people because they had not accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, but were willing to deny entry to any people of color into our church.

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