Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was born on January 15, 1929, and January 15, 2020 marks the 91st anniversary of his birth. Dr. King, who was born in Atlanta, GA, was subjected to segregation, and he lost his life in a quest to dismantle this system. Dr. King’s life was brought to a crashing halt by an unknown assassin or assassins on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. Interestingly, he sort of foretold his demise the day before in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. He talked about reaching the mountain top and said he might not get there with others, but that we would reach the “Promised Land.”
Today, the notion of reaching the Promised Land seems somewhat remote as we find ourselves in the throes of a backward environment of racism and the abuse of power by those in the highest offices of the land. Democracy, a structure that is not perfect, but that ideologically is one of the best systems developed to date, is under threat of demise. Politicians are in the process of dismantling it, and this can be seen by the actions of a large number of United States senators who are willing to depart from their roles as the stewards of democracy in order to profit financially, thus endangering the well-being of American citizens.
When Dr. King was alive, it is probable that he could not foresee a time when the United States would find itself in the current predicament, subjected to a President who lies and thumbs his nose at the normal workings of democracy and allegedly makes deals with foreign agents for personal gain. Where does Dr. King’s legacy fit within this scenario? He sought to gain justice for Black people in a system that worked.
Today, there is a very defeatist meme circulating in the Black community that avers that Black people are worse off now than they were under segregation. What would Dr. King, who lost his life in a move to defeat segregation, think about this sentiment? Did he give his life in vain? Actually, it is possible that those who usually adopt the notion that there has been no progress are deluded or misinformed, or just plain uninformed.
Once upon a time, Black people could not ride in the front of a bus, could not hold certain jobs, could not sit on the main floor of movie theaters in the south, could not eat in many restaurants across the country, were practically invisible in popular culture outside of race movies and music; could not shop in certain stores, could not drink from public water fountains designated for whites, could not play national sports with whites, could not attend schools with white people, and had little chance of living outside of the confines of ghettos. In short, Black people were thwarted at every level in American society, yet there were those who succeeded in realizing their dreams, nevertheless.
One of the reasons that those who say we are not better off today is due to at least two phenomena: the first is a “memory gap,” wherein youthful new generations who did not experience segregation have no idea what it was like before integration. Today, we are no longer confined to certain water fountains, and African Americans have influenced popular culture around the globe. True, there are still “firsts” that are occurring, but African Americans are the top in their fields and have achieved household name status in entertainment, sports, politics, and many other arenas.
The other circumstance that causes the uninformed to believe that segregation has set us backward is based on our own actions. Once upon a time when segregation was the law of the land, Black people were confined to certain communities. Lawyers, doctors, teachers, garbage men, and others lived together. They shopped with each other because they had no other choice. Today, Black people can shop and can access many things outside of the community. Because of this, Blacks no longer are forced to support each other. This is the main problem with integration, but the ball is in our court! It is our fault that this aspect of integration has been harmful. Dr. King would not have envisioned that his work would be sabotaged by us. The good news is that we can change this, no one is keeping us from working with each other. Hopefully, we will eventually realize this and stop this counterproductive behavior. With this said, HAPPY BIRTHDAY DR. KING!!!