Letter From New York 01 19 15 Thoughts on MLK Day…

The sun is setting in New York City, the world outside turning grey and dark. I am back at the apartment for the first time in a week, settling in for a few days in the city.

It is Martin Luther King Day and I came into the city to have lunch with my old friend Kevin, as well as John, his traveling companion. It was a long, leisurely lunch at one of my favorite spots, the café above the Fairway Market on 74th and Broadway.

After lunch, not quite finished visiting, we went to the Starbucks across the street, where I have always found a seat but today it was crammed to the gills and we wandered into the Viand Café across the street. Kevin wasn’t surprised it was full – after all, it was a holiday.

And, yes, it is, a holiday set aside to remember one of the most remarkable men of the 20th Century. As I was sitting, thinking about what I might do for today’s blog, I found myself back in 1968 when I was a teenager and heard that Martin Luther King was dead. I don’t remember where I was, exactly, as I did when JFK was shot but I remember the dread I felt when I heard he was dead.

As I felt when JFK was shot, as I felt when RFK was assassinated, I felt something good had gone out of the world, forcibly and wrongly and before his time. For all the ‘60’s were a swinging time, they also were dark and violent, a time when all our best hopes seem to be taken from us by madmen with guns.

Today in Mobile, hundreds marched; in Philadelphia, there were thousands. The last Freedom Train ran today, sold out, in California.

It is nearly fifty years since his death but Martin Luther King stands as an example for us all. As I was thinking about what to write today, I read an article on The Daily Kos about the real legacy of Martin Luther King. This writer posited that what MLK really did was to end the terror of living in the South, that by facing and experiencing their worst fears, black men and women learned to live without fear.

Not only did he give great speeches and lead marches, he led men and women to an interior place they had never known.

The world in which he grew up is nearly incomprehensible to me. I never experienced it. I barely knew anyone of color. In my Catholic boys high school, there was one African-American, and two Asians out of 1600. Of those, only one graduated with us, one of the Asians. We had no neighbors of color. I lived in a very white bread world and didn’t even realize it until I was older.

But growing up, I was aware of the sea change that was coming to the country. On the nightly news there were the horrific scenes of human beings being bashed and sprayed by water hoses.

Television made it impossible to hide the reality of what was happening, contributing to changes. The whole world was changing before my young eyes. Viet Nam was the first war that was televised and hundreds of thousands marched against that. There was a feeling that nothing would ever be the same again.

Civil rights were part of the changes being wrought.

Today’s march in Philadelphia found many carrying signs that said: Black Lives Matter. The deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner have called into question how far we actually have come. The questions of fifty years ago still have to be asked it seems.

We have come a long way. We still have a ways to go.

It is right to pay honor to Martin Luther King and the best way of paying honor is to continue to work to achieve his goals. His dream has been partly realized. Let us hope the next fifty years sees the completion of that dream, with hopes it will not take so long.

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