My Father and the Reverend Dr. King
When my brothers and I were growing up, and my parents were still living in this country, I remember my father consistently and constantly sharing with all of us his recollections of the day that he “marched with Dr. King.” My siblings and I would roll our eyes as we had to endure his endless recounting of his participation at the national March for Jobs and Freedom on the National Mall. Even before we understood what exactly transpired that day, we all matured knowing that our father was there.
Pop didn’t have an official role in that event. He was only one of thousands who gathered on that August day to demonstrate his solidarity with others who believed the same. He repeated this memory so often in the years afterwards that my oldest brother, when he eulogized my father this past November, cited this event as being part of Pop’s legacy to all of his eight sons.
I once asked my father what it was like being on the National Mall, in such a large gathering, and watching Dr. King deliver his infamous speech, “I have a dream…” Pop responded: “It was very empowering. If all of us work together, there is nothing that we cannot conquer.”
When my oldest brother eulogized Pop, he summed it all up perfectly: “They both believed in the same ideal; equality and freedom for everyone.” Dr. King was martyred due to his beliefs. Pop tried to live his beliefs every day for the rest of his life.
Many people mistakenly think that Dr. King’s message and mission was exclusively focused on the African-American community. His message and mission were important to all people. That’s the reason that we, as humans, honor the day of his birth.
Of course, my father did not know Dr. King personally. However, to us, his sons, who had to endure his constant retelling of their experience together, one would think they were the very best of friends. I am sharing this incident here as proof that Dr. King’s message impacted not only the African-American community, but others as well. He was indeed a “man for all time.”
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial with the Washington Memorial in the background.
The Aftermath of the March:
The August 28, 1963, March of Washington, D.C. for Jobs and Freedom was the largest singular demonstration to take place in the USA as of that date. More than 250,000 stood with Dr. King on that day to protest against institutionalized segregation and second class citizenship. That it took place without bloodshed and rioting was a credit to Dr. King’s ideals, his leadership and the respect that he commanded from those committed to his message of non-violent protest.
What many people fail to realize is that the speech that he delivered that day, to all those many followers and to a televised national audience was not the address that he and his staff had intended to deliver. As Dr. King began his prepared text, the audience grew restless. It was a very hot and humid day and many had travelled for several hundred miles (or more), leaving their homes before dawn, in order just to be there. Sensing this sagging attentiveness, Ms. Mahalia Jackson, a renowned gospel and spiritual performer in her own right, yelled across the stage, “Tell them about the dream, Martin!”
Dr. King pushed his prepared remarks aside and began speaking extemporaneously, starting with the now infamous phrase, “I have a dream…” He captured not only his audience’s attention, but also the nation’s. Since that day, it has come to be regarded as his most eloquent address. It is also considered by most as one of the finest examples ever of American oratory.
Dr. King was born on January 15, 1929, and named Michael Luther King, Jr. His father, a Baptist clergyman, attended a conference in Europe and became so impressed with the teachings of the Protestant reformer, Martin Luther, that he legally changed both his and his son’s names to Martin Luther King, Jr. (Dr. King’s father becoming, Martin Luther King, Sr.). This name change took place in 1934. Dr. King was assassinated by a white supremacist on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee, USA.
Honors and Recognitions
In 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize by the late King Gustaf VI Adolph of Sweden. This outstanding honor was based on his commitment to nonviolence, even when faced with physical force and imprisonment. A high honor for a man with no political standing.
In 1977, he was awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom by then-President Jimmy Carter. The accompanying citation on this posthumous honor noted his efforts for civil rights, equality, and peace.
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Park on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., is the only public memorial on the National Mall to honor a civilian. The space was dedicated by then-President Barack Hussein Obama (pictured above) on August 22, 2011. It is both symbolic and fitting that the first African-American honored with both space on the National Mall and a public holiday had his place on the National Mall celebrated and dedicated by the first African-American president.
Dr. King Today
Dr. King was a controversial figure throughout his lifetime and continues to be so today. His efforts changed the way that people living in the USA view not only themselves but their neighbors as well. This change involves a conflict for many who are unable to accept or embrace their fellow Americans who’s skin color is different from their own.
Whatever fear or insecurity this feeling is based on, it has had centuries to ingrain itself into our national psych. It is a learned behavior and those are among the most difficult to overcome.
In my home state, Virginia, 2019 marks the 400th anniversary of the founding of the local legislature, the General Assembly. This coincides with the 400th anniversary of the landing of the first slave ship bearing kidnapped Africans into the British colonies. The ensuing lucrative slave trade continued until the middle of the 19th Century. The horrors of the Middle Passage, the inhuman conditions suffered by those kidnapped, the trauma of enslavement and the disparity of institutionalized segregation all will be commemorated in official activities this year.
The current sitting General Assembly is being asked by a bipartisan gubernatorial commission to declare 2019 as the Year of Reconciliation and Civility. An opportunity to seek forgiveness and understanding of past injustices, an effort to educate about the legacy of bigotry and hate and to foster a dialogue between communities and people who seek to challenge old myths and to create change and unity.
This legislative proposal was presented to both houses of the General Assembly on January 15, 2019. Dr. King’s 90th birthday. His legacy remains alive.
He remains enthusiastic over the 2nd Anniversary of ReNude Pride!