- Post 18 January 2011
- By Associated Press
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It is hard to believe that it has been 25 years since America chose to honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a national holiday. So much has changed in those 25 years, and not all of it for the better.
Many Americans take the occasion of the holiday to try to do things that tie into what is thought to be King’s dream. Some take part in a day of service, to give of themselves as King gave of himself. There are myriad dinners and breakfasts and other events that take on King’s name, unfurl his likeness and charge so much to get in that it would embarrass any “poor people’s campaign.”
Not everyone salutes Dr. King on this holiday, just as not everyone saluted him during his life. The role of prophet is not always embraced, and Dr. King was no exception. He was ‘buked and scorned” in many places, and not just in the deep South, where marchers were set on by growling, vicious dogs and high pressure fire hoses, when they weren’t simply abducted and killed.
He was even scorned here in Chicago, where he brought his movement for human rights to a city so segregated, even many years later, that a Black man would risk his life to even deliver the mail in a white neighborhood.
But Dr. King was undaunted, and he recognized that while the deep South was fertile ground for planting the seeds for freedom and equality, there was quite a bit of tilling needed in hardscrabble land of the deep North.
Those who lobbied and cajoled and influenced the federal government to grant the holiday that coincides with Dr. King’s birthday, simply wanted recognition of the efforts of a great man. They wanted to make sure that this prophet, who spoke only of non-violent opposition to oppression and was himself the victim of violence, was remembered by a nation that was made better by his presence, by his heart and by his faith.
There is much yet to do. The vision that Dr. King had from the mountaintop probably did not include a Black man sitting in the White House as President of the United States. But his vision probably would not have included the level of Black-on-Black crime plaguing our streets, and half of Chicago’s school students dropping out and an unemployment rate for African Americans simply makes a joke of the American dream.
But perhaps it is the height of irony that after 25 years, the holiday to commemorate the life of the Nobel Prize-winning leader is the occasion for a mattress sale at a local mattress company, or the hook to get people to come out and buy a new car at a reduced rate.
On a day to honor Dr. King, who would have celebrated his 82nd birthday this year, schools and libraries are closed, not in reverence, but instead because it was a union-negotiated day off, so students can’t even study the life of Dr. King on that day. Sad.
What we should celebrate on this holiday is not Dr. King’s dream, but instead his vision. We should all try to emulate that vision, and see America, Chicago, our neighborhoods, our school, not as what they are, but as what they can be, should be.
Copyright 2011 Chicago Defender