Friday, March 16, 2012

Martin Luther King Jr.: The Other America

Martin Luther King marches for striking sanitation workers 
in Memphis on March 18, 1968 (Credit).
"I still believe that freedom is the bonus you receive for telling the truth. Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. And I do not see how we will ever solve the turbulent problem of race confronting our nation until there is an honest confrontation with it and a willing search for the truth and a willingness to admit the truth when we discover it."
Comment: This passage was taken from a speech Martin Luther King Jr. delivered at Grosse Pointe High School close to Detroit on March 14, 1968.  

Three weeks later on April 4, 198, Dr. King was assassinated on the balcony of a hotel where he was staying in Memphis Tennessee.  He was just 39 years old.

Much, if not all, of what Dr. King had to say still rings true 44 years later.  The US is still a racially divided nation and it has continued to be embroiled in violent imperial wars.

I like the passage quoted above because it speaks to my belief in the peaceful notion of confrontation for the purposes of truth.

No nation, no group, and no individual can be free without confronting that which ails.  In some cases it may be the unsettled past and the purpose is to know the details and to understand the hold.

In other cases, it may be about liberation and moving beyond the impasse that grounds.

There is no one confrontation.  An no confrontation should be about being disagreeable for the sake of disagreeing.

Confronting the past is about freedom.  And like Dr. King says above, the path toward freedom is through telling the truth.

In decades past I have not spent too much time on the legacy and message of Dr. King.  I have, frankly, judged him unfairly even in the moments when I stood by his tomb in front of Freedom Hall at The King Center in Atlanta and later when I gazed upon the place where he was assassinated in Memphis.

My judgment was born of haste, ignorance, and an incomplete appreciation for the complexity of the man and his struggle over time.

I compared the early life of Malcolm X and his radicalism and judged Dr. King to have been too soft, even to have sold out.

In recent years I have come to see that Malcolm X and Dr. King were more alike than different.  Both men sought to confront for the purpose of telling the truth toward freedom.

Understanding Dr. King has also allowed me to see the Mahatma in a very different light.  One that is less judgmental like the time when I visited his Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad in Gujarat and wondered why he was so willing to forgive.

I have been foolish.  Foolish about the power of militant non-violence and even more foolish about the power of forgiveness- including the part about forgiving myself.

The more I have thought about the life of Dr. King and Mahatma Gandhi the more I come to appreciate their strengths and their frailties inside of our universal condition - inside of our humanity.

I do know more now.  But it is still not nearly enough.


No comments: