Monday, January 21, 2008

A Celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I am a 48 year old black woman living in the United States. I am the daughter of a woman born in the segregated south, who went to "colored" only schools, drank from water fountains marked "white" and "colored", and used public restrooms marked "white" and "colored". My grandparents were descendants of sharecroppers, freed slaves and Native Americans.

As a small child visiting my grandparents in South Carolina, I remember picking cotton with them and walking down the main street in town with my grandfather ~ a tall, dark skinned man with hazel green eyes, who would have to get off the sidewalk and walk in the street when white men passed us by, calling him boy and nigga, a man who didn't dare raise his eyes and stare at a white woman as she passed by.

So to me today is a very special day, a day worth celebrating!

Yesterday, I went to a program at my mom's church in celebration of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., called, "The Man and the Message." There were passages of his most famous speeches played and spoken, there were songs of freedom sung, and the children of the church danced and sang. There was even an offering taken for the local food bank but there were two things that really touched my heart...

One was the Litany that was included in the program...and I include a part of here...

CONGREGATION: Martin Luther King, Jr. envisioned the ultimate freedom: the freedom achieved in struggle; the freedom reached in brotherhood and sisterhood; the freedom inspired by the lot of a people; the freedom free of hate; the freedom full of love.

LEADER 1: He came into our lives when the yearning of a people to be free had turned their attention to justice. For justice, and only justice, we shall follow, that we may live and inherit the land which the Lord our God gave us.

CONGREGATION: He reminded us that the spirit of man and woman soars from depths of despair with the strength and belief in the promise of the Creator. We know and we testify: the Lord loves justice; God will not forsake the saints.

LEADER 2: And so he set off with us on a journey for justice. It was a journey proclaiming the words of the ancient prophet, Amos: "Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream." It was a journey calling forth the modern Christian ministry to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.

CONGREGATION: And even when death was confronted, as the journey reached Memphis, he could say in final triumph, that in life he had found something worth dying for, something worth life itself - The Promised Land, a land of freedom with justice.

ALL: We praise the Lord God for sending us a man of peace, a man of non-violence who fought for liberty, a man of God who worked for people. Thank you Lord, for Martin Luther King, Jr. who inspired us with his dream, who walked into our lives and our hearts with his marches for justice, who demanded freedom with great courage in the face of grave danger, and who has now passed on into your Promised Land. Thank you for his noble legacy to continue the journey to that land here on earth. Thank you God.

The other thing that touched me was the address given by one of the NJ state Congressman, who was of Indian descent, who attended the service. His comments paraphrased were basically that every immigrant, every person from another country that has made their way to America after Dr. King's valiant fight, owed a debt of gratitude to Dr. King and the people who marched, fought and suffered with him because their fight for equality made it possible for everyone else who came behind to be free in America!

I know for many that this is just a day off from work. The post office and banks are closed. The retail outlets are running more sales and you can sleep late, run errands or just relax. But to me and my family, this is a day of celebration, a day of reflection, a day of atonement but mostly a day of gratitude...because someone cared enough to stand up! Someone believed enough in freedom for all men and women no matter their color or creed, believed in an America that would, could and should change...

So I celebrate today and every day a man of vision, a man of courage, a man who had a dream, that still is working on becoming a reality...

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.



  1. I am a 57 year old white woman who remembers Dr King vividly. He had a lot to do in his short life. My husbands mother is from the south and he remembers the whites only signs when he traveled to North Carolina as a child. He has a proud history in his family of civil rights activism.
    Can you imagine, the Democratic nomination will most assuredly go to either a woman or a black man. Finally.
    Enjoy your day of reflection

  2. I sometimes wonder, if this good man had lived a long life, how different our world would be today!

  3. Whenever I think of MLK I am filled with mixed emotions. I feel joy that a man of such strength and tolerance lived and shared his vision with the world, but I am also sad that he had to live in a world with such narrow vision. I have never experienced racism like you have Carolyn and although it isn't something any small child (nor adult for that matter) should have to face, I believe that it is in part responsible for the person you are today. You have such great compassion and understanding. You are thoughtful and open-minded. I find that the people that intrigue and inspire me the most are the ones that have examined their misfortune and taken a lesson from it. I strongly believe that we are a compilation of our experiences - both positive and negative - it's all about how we choose to allow our experiences to affect us. You have obviously distilled great insight from your life's lessons and that is what makes others gravitate toward you.

    Here's hoping that someday we won't know the meaning of the word racism.

  4. A lot has happened in our generation.
    What you describe is inconceivable to the generation our children belong to.
    We can and must continue to work towards a day when the pigment in someones skin is not even a consideration in determining qualities of a personal nature.

  5. I appreciate your post about what Dr. King meant to you. I'm one of the only people I know who actually saw him, in Atlanta, in 1963, I believe it was. A huge crowd came down a narrow city street singing "We Shall Overcome" and another student and I jumped inside a store rather than get crushed by the huge singing crowd. We watched through the window as they assembled outside a church across the way and then Dr. King was up on the steps speaking to them. We looked at each other and were thrilled at what we were witnessing. Then the store owner told us to leave out the back way right then because he was afraid and was locking up his store. It was a tiny bit of history for me.

  6. I share your sentiments, Carolyn, and I am glad that we have a day to commemorate such a great man. It is anathema to me that in our "free" country there were those who were not, and I very much hope that if a Democrat wins this time around, it will be Obama. It would be huge.

  7. Carolyn, I truly enjoyed your reflections on Dr. King. As a white woman who grew up in the racially charged 60's I vividly remember the protests, the riots and the quiet but powerful message of Dr. King. One of my heros at the time was the great Shirley Chisholm. I wonder what her thoughts would be this year? Thanks for a thoughtful and sincere message.

  8. Thank you for your reflections on the service and the meaning of this day for you. Dr King's words resonate across time & distance-I can from time to time hear recordings of him speaking and it never ceases to move me and get me to reflect on the issues of race, justice, equality and human dignity as they are played out here in Australia especially between the white/anglo majority and the black/Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander minority.

  9. Carolyn, I wrote you a somewhat long email and then deleted the whole thing. I am also a white woman who grew up in the south, I recall the black/white water fountains in the back of Belks dept store, the separate schools (till I was in second grade) and the KKK marches in town on Sat that I didn't understand. And I recall my black med school roommate (from Memphis) taking me to the Lorraine Motel one Thanksgiving and telling me the whole story. We have come a long way during the past fifty years, but I agree things may have been so much different had he and so many others in the civil rights movement survived to follow through on their dreams. I hope the rest of us can muddle along and still pull it off. karent

  10. Thanks for writing this Carolyn. Yesterday I got in to a conversation with a South African who told me that Aparthied was necessary in South Africa. It was shocking to hear this from a 28 year old. Reading this post re-affirmed my belief that a movement needs a face and leader.

  11. Carolyn,

    Thank you for posting on Martin Luther King. In my young life I have experienced some discrimination and prejudice, but I've never lived through the demeaning conditions of segregation. I think my generation takes the current social climate for granted. We don't really understand what our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents lived through. I sometimes wonder if my generation even has the fortitude to withstand and fight the injustices of racism and segregation.

    I am thankful for people before me who though they were hard pressed on every side, never gave up their dignity and pride.

  12. Beautiful post, Carolyn. I live in a northern city that struggles with racism.

    There is still much to be done, and MLK still inspires me.

  13. Carolyn, this was most moving and I appreciate your sharing this. I too like some of the above remember the riots of the '60's most vividly the Woolworth's sit in in Greensboro, NC. No one could ever explain to me at that age why segregation was necessary. I am most thankful to have lived all over the USA and to experienced many cultures and met so many diverse individuals. Dr. King was a great man and leader whose life was too short. We have come a long way but have a ways to go.

  14. Carolyn, I was moved by your post. Thanks for sharing your story.

  15. Carolyn and other posters,

    Unlike of some if you, I was born after Dr. King died so I do not have any memories of what it was like "before". And that is why I think these kinds of posts are especially important because they educate us and help us know why his work was so necessary. And even more importantly, I hope it could provoke discussions about what could be. Racial relations are far from what they need to be in this country and around the world. Thank you for provoking some of that discussion!

  16. Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan...The 3 wise men.

  17. I am 24 year old black woman and I appreciate your blog. Things have changed drastically from the days Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was alive. I live in Taylorsville, a small town in North Carolina. There is a sign in a nearby town that says COLORED ENTRANCE. It’s just a sign that we still have a long way to go.


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