An American Hero - Martin Luther 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".... - Martin Luther King Jr. -.
Why Martin Luther King?
Some questioned, and many still do the merits of a national holiday which celebrates the life and contribution of Martin Luther King. I never fully understood the controversy, nor have I ever fully appreciated the contributions which King, and other civil rights advocates made.
There seems to be a dividing line between the United States before the accomplishments of the civil rights movements in the 1950s, and 1960s and what has come after. It is true that poverty and all that poverty implies still haunts a large percentage of urban blacks, but laws forbidding segregation, and legal discrimination have changed society significantly for blacks, and every American.
If one considers the absolute evil which white people committed upon blacks for hundreds of years it is obvious that any transition away from slavery was bound to take more than a signature upon a proclamation, and an Amendment to the Constitution. Slavery did not end after the Civil War.
Many Americans seem oblivious to the effects which Jim Crow laws, and racial discrimination in general had upon blacks in the century following the end of the Civil War. They ask why it is that blacks didn't rise up like other minorities such as the Irish who were hated even by blacks. The reason was simple - race.
Irish, Italian, and other Caucasian minorities could lose their accents, adopt English as their primary language, intermarry, live, and work with other Caucasians, and thereby melt into mainstream society. Blacks on the other hand were segregated and discriminated against as if they were some form of lower beast.
Martin Luther King was by no means the only civil rights leader in this nation either before or after his assassination, however he played a pivotal role in the cause for justice and freedom which can not be overstated. Some have argued that the cause of liberty and equality was a historic wave, and that another individual would have filled the role that King played if he had not risen to the challenge. This is likely true, yet it was King who dedicated his life to the cause, and it was King who gave his life for the cause.
The Darkness Within
Why was this done to blacks? Because it could be done. There was never any moral imperative, or guiding wisdom behind slavery, or racial discrimination. It took place, and still takes place simply because it can. A primitive instinct of domination and control within the human heart seeks expression in a variety of ways.
We see the human instinct to dominate others expressed in hundreds of ways; from the relationships we have with our spouses and children, to the size of our cubicles and the location of our parking spaces at work. We see it in the type of cars we drive, the food we eat, the clothes we wear. We see it in the neighborhoods we live in, the schools we send our children to, and even in the way we throw our heads back to avoid eye contact with other's who we deem inferior because they may be fatter, older, uglier, or wearing less expensive clothing than we are.
Human beings are infected with the desire to establish, and enforce an apelike dominance hierarchy. The entire fabric of human society seems dependent upon this animal impulse, and a never ending string of wars throughout human history suggest it has always been so.
People of all races, and societies do this simply because it is the nature of the beast that they are. We are after all sentient beings living within apelike body forms. We carry within us instincts that may have allowed us to survive as individuals, but which have wrought continuous conflict upon humankind. Some call this proof of man's propensity toward sin, or the original sin, while others call it human nature. In any case there is a dark, irrational, and dangerous side to being human - no matter who you are.
Race was just an excuse for one group of people to exploit and control others, and to do so without feeling bad about themselves in the process. It was in effect a form of warfare. White people effectively waged war upon black people in this nation for hundreds of years. The effects of this war upon blacks have been similar to what was seen on Europe after World War Two - devastation. While half of all blacks have moved into the ranks of the Middle Class the remaining half are still living in poverty. This is a direct result of discrimination no matter how much white people want to deny it.
Yoking Oneself to a Greater Good
Martin Luther King fully understood that he would be killed for his opposition to the slavery under which his people were suffering. He yoked himself fully to his cause, a cause of universal freedom and justice, and a belief that human beings could rise above their sinful nature and end the cycle of violence and self destruction which has haunted all of human kind from the beginning of history.
King is one of America's greatest heroes. His contributions, and that of all civil rights activist have forced the United States to realize that the liberties announced within the Declaration of Independence, and the United States Constitution are meant for every man, woman, and child not just in this nation, but around the world.
We all owe a debt to Martin Luther King, and to others who opposed the evils of discrimination based upon race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, gender, age, and sexual orientation.
Martin Luther King sacrificed his life to lift up this nation, to set it free, and to give it a chance to become the best it can be.