It’s the day after the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday. It’s also the day our congressional representatives are debating the future of voting rights. That the two days are less than 24 hours apart is worth noting. Yesterday, the media was full of plaudits and praise for Dr. King and all he worked for during his lifetime. Today, when the U.S. Senate seems hellbent on turning its back on voting rights, one wonders what that public display of reverence and regard for Dr. King was really all about.
Last evening I listened to a historical podcast titled King’s Last March. It detailed the final days of Dr. King’s life in which he was viciously attacked and undermined by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, lost favor with President Johnson and began to see a decline of public faith in his beloved philosophy of nonviolent resistance.
The narrative of the podcast painted Dr. King in a fading light as he battled multiple forces. As I listened to some of his final sermons, I was saddened to witness how a giant of Dr. King’s stature was forced to face some unsettling realities. The zeitgeist of the ’60s was moving away from his philosophy. The curtain was falling on Dr. King’s influence shaping one of the most significant periods in U.S. history. Peace seemed to be on the decline as militancy and violence represented by the war in Vietnam and uprisings in America’s inner cities ascended. While thousands thronged his appearances, Black people were losing their patience with the slow progress of economic and social justice.
Even so, in the final speech before his assassination, Dr. King remained faithful to his belief in love, hope, and nonviolence. Some have said his proclamation that he would not get to witness Black people moving into his vision of the promised land was a premonition that he knew his days were short. As I heard him say those words it seemed he was saying farewell to a world that had painted him as a wild-eyed dreamer and an enemy of the state when all he preached was justice, fairness and love.
Given Dr. King’s last painful days and his assassination, it’s both ironic and sad that 50 years later, our society still pays major lip service to his greatness while we’ve turned away from his dream of an America that would treat all of its people justly and finally grant Black people the rights we have toiled so long to achieve. But given where we are today, I guess that America, Dr. King’s hoped-for shining city on a hill, is as much of a dream today as it was during his lifetime.
And for that I’m very sad as I believe Dr. King would be also.