By CATRINA FRANCIS
Gold Standard Senior Staff Writer
Had Martin Luther King Jr., survived the assassins bullet on April 4, 1968, he would have celebrated his 84th birthday Tuesday.
I’ve often wondered if he had lived what would he think about America’s post-Civil Rights Movement and his “dream.”
Would he believe that his dream had come to fruition? Or would he believe that his dream has become a nightmare?
In many aspects MLK’s dream has come to fruition and he was able to see some of that before his death. Although he saw the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965, King never had an opportunity to fully experience the rights that are guaranteed in the Constitution.
Prior to his death King’s ideology had shifted from civil rights and he began the “Poor People’s Campaign.” In November 1967, King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference organized the campaign which would address issues of economic justice and housing for the poor in the U.S. The campaign’s aim was the rebuilding of America’s cities. It wasn’t aimed at poor African-Americans; it addressed all poor people.
While waging this campaign King realized that he was fighting an uphill battle with Congress as its focus was the military because our country was fighting the war in Vietnam. King was very vocal, critical and against the country being in this war.
I remember taking a Black History class as a sophomore in high school, which was before King’s birthday was named a federal holiday, and I recall my teacher saying the best thing that happened to King was his assassination. I was a bit baffled as to why my teacher would utter such nonsense. He went on to explain what he meant. He believed King was entering a time in his life where he was possibly becoming irrelevant. He had established the Poor People’s Campaign and at the time of his death he was in Memphis for the city’s African-American sanitation workers who were seeking higher wages and better treatment.
I had to take a moment and think about that statement. Had King become irrelevant? If he were, I don’t believe he would have remained irrelevant. I believe he would have been even more vocal about the war in Vietnam and some of the civil unrest in the country.
Although King believed change would come about through nonviolent means, groups such as the Black Panthers (although formed before King died) came to prominence after his death. I believe King would have attempted to work with the members and show them nonviolence does work. Or, who knows, maybe he would have joined them. Maybe he wouldn’t have adopted all the tenets of the group’s ideology, but I believe he would have had a better understanding.
I also believe part of his dream has become a nightmare.
According to the Census Bureau, the African-American poverty rate nudged up 0.2 percent points to 27.6 percent, representing nearly 10 million people living in poverty.
I don’t believe King would be happy with those numbers. These numbers show his People’s Campaign was a failure.
I also believe he would be saddened by the soaring crime rate in our urban areas and the high drop-out rate among African-American males, which is almost 3 percent higher than African-American females.
King wouldn’t understand how a generation who benefitted from equal education could fail so miserably. The generations after segregation never experienced separate but equal. They all had the benefit of receiving the same education of their counterparts. I also believe he wouldn’t be able to completely understand these numbers because he grew up during a time of segregation, yet he graduated with a doctorate from Boston University. His thinking might have been if I can struggle and become educated under some of the harshest conditions, why can’t these young people get it together to graduate high school and college.
I know I’m included in the generation who had it much easier than our parents. I never experienced segregated schools, but my parents, who were born and raised in the South, Mississippi to be more precise, know all too well the meaning of separate but equal.
Because of this, I was told that with each generation there shall be improvement. My mother and grandfather stressed education. My grandfather believed in King’s dream. And he knew that dream would happen if his grandchildren were educated.
I must admit I haven’t always believed and followed King’s ideology, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve been able to look at the big picture and understand what King meant when he said, “Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”