It’s Martin Luther King Day and it would be nice if we saw it as something more than just another Monday off or another sale. There are still plenty of us around who remember when he emerged and the state of our society and what he did. We ought to speak up at some point today because the contrast with our society today is instructive.
Dr. King came out of church and reminded people of their better natures. If you had a conscience, he knew how to reach it. The civil rights movement faced clubs and attack dogs and fire hoses and guns with dignity and discipline – and won. Americans love winners. But it’s important to remember that the Montgomery bus boycott was seven years before the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech and through most of that time, nobody connected with the movement would have put money on their odds of winning anything. Those people knew their own history and could see with their own eyes every day how their actions were hardening the fears of their opposition.
But what’s heartening about Dr. King’s story – and Mahatma Gandhi’s, for politically the stories are identical – is that the battle was won by embarrassing people with power into doing the right thing despite themselves, because they couldn’t look in the mirror anymore or speak to their friends at parties or their wives at the dinner table without shame. Dr. King and Gandhi banked on the consciences of people who showed no signs of having any and won unimaginable victories by doing so.
In an age when our leaders play chicken over phony issues and haven’t the courage to even attempt to discuss what’s at stake, we shouldn’t forget that, in living memory, it wasn’t always this way.
They didn’t have to give Martin Luther King a statue. All we have to do is remember who he was and what he did. He was a big man for real.