By Vernon A. Williams
Q: Back in the day, people thought you went too far with your controversial protest of the war in Vietnam. Of course we know today you were on the right side of history, but where did you get the courage to speak out when everyone was trying to shut you down?
KING: “The time is always right to do what is right. Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”
Q: What would you tell those frustrated Americans today who are tired of “turning the other cheek” and who suggest that we fight fire with fire with violent demonstrations and riots to combat police killings and rampant racism?
KING: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. The limitation of riots, moral questions aside, is that they cannot win and their participants know it. Hence, rioting is not revolutionary but reactionary because it invites defeat. It involves an emotional catharsis, but it must be followed by a sense of futility.”
Q: We miss you. In this new millennium, there is no clear-cut African American leadership, and many are wondering what they should do to make a difference. What would you tell those who want to get involved but don’t know how?
KING: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others? The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
Q: Even with more diplomas and degrees than ever, some people question the actual worth of education in a hateful environment. What difference does education make?
KING: “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education. We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character–that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate.”
Q: What are your thoughts on the political climate in Washington D.C. in which one person has apparently gotten control of all three branches of government? What do you say of people who sit by and silently watch this desecration, doing nothing to stop it?
KING: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.
Q: What if the people of this nation failed to respond in 2020 to the urgency of this hour – neglected to end this tyranny? How would people today be remembered?
KING: “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people. The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.”
Q: Being a man of God, what do you say to disbelievers who feel it necessary to dismiss or disrespect organized religion in favor of science?
KING: “Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge, which is power; religion gives man wisdom, which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals. Scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.”
Q: Why don’t people get it that the two concepts – religion and science – are NOT mutually exclusive? Why can’t more people process that simple truth?
KING: “Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.”
Q: We don’t want to take up much more of your time, Dr. King, but there is one compelling issue that must be addressed. Much of the Jim Crow Era racism that you fought so hard to alleviate has returned with a vengeance in America. What do you say to those who can’t seem to overcome bitter differences in this nation?
KING: “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools. Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness. We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear.”
Q: You once sang, “We Shall Overcome.” Do you still believe that? Dr. King, will America ever truly overcome its deep-seated division to come together as one?
KING: ”I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word. Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself.”
Thank you, Dr. King. We all really need a word right about now.
CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].