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The iconic image of MLK


Chris James

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Today is Martin Luther King Day, a national holiday across the land, although that took some time to be accepted. Just the very idea that we should celebrate the life and times of a black man was repulsive to many, and yet look how far we have come.

MLK was many things. A vibrant speaker, a loving father, a less than caring husband. Yes, his life is surrounded with rumors and innuendo about affairs with women...but so what, it only makes him human, and who are we to judge?

I remember that "I Have a Dream" speech, I heard it on the radio...at least most of it. The image of MLK standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on a hot August day in 1963 was not easy to see. The photos show the reflecting pool stretching out in the distance away from the monument, but what they do not show is this 14 year old white boy standing towards the end of the pool on the left hand side with a group of his friends.

I was there that day with Jessie and Gloria, two of the black kids from my school. This was before African-American became the PC term, but they were both proud to be black. Andy and Dave and I, the white boys, were there at their invitation to see a "major event" and it was all of that. Over a quarter of a million people make quite an impression on a young mind but the sound from the podium was terrible and I was thankful for the black man standing beside us with his radio.

MLK's dream seemed like a good idea as he explained it. I was all caught up in the peace movement against the growing Vietnam War and knew that a disproportionate number of black men were drafted and sent across the ocean. His words were surrounded with religious ideals and symbolism I could not embrace, but his call for unity between the races made great sense to me.

His tragic assassination at the hands of a white racist thug showed how strongly the black community felt about one of their own being killed. The riots, lootings, and burnings that flashed across the nation would not have met with his approval but they were inevitable.

I think my 14 year old self would have enjoyed a quiet conversation with MLK, just as I often though about having a dialogue with Gandhi. I was always fascinated with the meanings behind the words these men used to inspire others to support their cause. I still am.

However you view the man, he caused a turning point in our American society. I am just afraid that in all the anger I see and feel these days that his message of peace has been lost to the newer generations.

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