On April 4th, 1968, the day started like any other in Memphis. A light warm rain fell upon the city as residents went about their day as they did the day before and the day before that. An ordinary day.
By 6:02 that evening, the city of Memphis and the United States of America had become anything but ordinary.
The evening prior, during a raging thunderstorm, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King had delivered a mostly unprepared speech at Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee. King eloquently expressed his support for striking sanitation workers. In this setting and against the storming backdrop, he made perhaps the most prophetic speech of his career. King had shared that he had “been to the mountain top” and “seen the promised land.” In his iconic captivating tone, he promised emphatically “I may not get there with you. But I want you to know, tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”
Some 50 plus years after his assassination, we gather throughout the country to remember and honor a man many have cast as a civil rights champion.
Without the efforts of Dr. King, my family, and many others, my life would have turned out very differently. I do not doubt that without the efforts of Dr. King and members of the movement, our collective lives as Americans would be far less than noble.
We reflect upon his legacy with celebration and action in mind.
We remember a time in our not too distant past when America was less than all she could be. We remember Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, the Kennedy brothers, the children killed in the 16 street church bombings and countless unsung others who were taken from us far too soon. We also remember and venerate those everyday unknown heroes who fought tirelessly to remind us all that we could do better.
We celebrate a man who had the conviction of his beliefs and an ability to encourage individuals to persistently fight—and even die—for a worthy shared goal. We celebrate those who supported the cause of civil rights in the face of great personal physical peril as well as familial and cultural estrangement.
As individuals, we are called to action by our conviction and we must persistently do our part in removing impediments from the road so that those who come after us might face a less difficult and dangerous path.
As we again commemorate in 2019 the birth and legacy of Dr. King, we do so in a context that many describe as a nation divided. Many of the injustices and inequities the civil rights movement highlighted exist today while new ones have emerged. Dr. King understood then what we should pay heed to now: we are, perhaps more so than ever, interdependent. Simply put, he knew that we are family. We are sometimes a sick, irrational, unhealthy and dysfunctional family, and like any good analyst, Dr. King spoke to the necessity of exposing the causes of the sickness so that we could attempt to heal.
We pause this month to appreciate the body of work of a man who championed multiracial interaction, intercultural collaboration, and the quest for a more inclusive society. A person who realized that symbiotic interdependence is a necessary condition for our shared existence as individuals and as a nation.