Today Americans will look back 50 years to a day of horror in Memphis. A single shot dropped the King on the balcony, who fired that shot? America the White.
I am hoping that today, white Americans like me, will make this a day to not just reflect on history, but to consider and grieve the legacy we spring from.
Please, before you shut down read on.
I remember reading years ago the true account of a young black man from Jackson Mississippi, he had left the south in the mid 60’s to attend a Christian private College, in southern California. He was the only black man in most of the school, so when he heard the news from Memphis, he retreated to his dorm room in tears. Soon his grief turned to anger as he heard his fellow students running the halls, laughing and celebrating, that the “uppity negro” had been put in his place.
Fifty years ago, I had just celebrated my 6th birthday. Dale, Nancy, Dave, Barb and Todd had come to my party. We were just finishing kindergarten, we played in the hay mow on the farm and ate birthday dinner and cake. I remember the party and my friends, but I have no recollection that the life of the King for Justice had been cut short.
I have black friends my same age, they clearly recall their parents grief, their teachers reactions, it was an earth-shattering moment. In my white world it seems to have barely triggered an emotional tremor.
I do recall that people considered the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King a communist sympathizer, they considered him uppity, they believed he was an instigator, the cause of the problems facing the segregated south. We northern whites were secure in our belief that we were not part of the problem. We knew it was only communists who were our enemy, and any threat to American peace was from the red threat of the star, sickle and hammer.
Why does this matter?
Today black, white and brown will honor the fallen King. We, white Americans, can easily forget that for most of our ancestors who were living at the time, the assassination was “just deserts” for one who had caused, in their mind, so much anarchy to rule.
They had thought there was peace, yet there was only domination. They had thought their nation was just, but he had forced them to look hate in the face. YES, this King did awaken many in white America, yet the vast majority only mumbled a complaint that their slumber had been disturbed. While we blamed James Earl Ray, as the trigger man, it was America the White who was accomplice #1.
Today we will together remember one who died to awaken the sleeping giant of white supremacy, yet this giant still refuses to move its ass from off the couch of America to admit the injustices of present day policing, military spending, migrant-mongering, health-care inequities, and much more.
So yes, white Americans, today remember the life of the Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. but please do your part to assure the giant of white supremacy is continually pushed off the couch and out the door in all the spaces of America where you have a voice.