By Brenda H. Andrews
New Journal and Guide
At least twice a year, New Journal and Guide observes and remembers the life and contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This week, we pause to memorialize his untimely death on April 4, 1968 at the hands of an assassin while he was in Memphis, Tenn., mobilizing efforts for decent wages for the sanitation workers of that city. I am particularly thankful the Black Press exists to keep alive the history and legacy of men and women like Dr. King who lived and died so that this current and future generations would have opportunities and access to opportunities that have been delayed or deferred.
It is a good thing be able to determine who our heroes are and how we will remember them—another reason to keep this and other Black newspapers not just alive but fully functioning and relevant sources of community empowerment. It’s important to remember that freedom is not free. Forty dollars a year for a subscription to the Guide is a small price to maintain this 116-year-old legacy.
Recently I viewed a short movie on BET entitled “Betty and Coretta” that no doubt was aired at this time also to memorialize King’s lasting legacy. It told of the courage and charisma of the wives of Dr. King and Malcolm X, who both became young widows left to raise families on their own after their husbands’ assassinations. The film took me back to the days of the civil rights movement upon which both families impacted significantly just 50 or so years ago. Because of the sacrifices of all four persons in the film, we as a people of color and as a nation are not where we were back then.
Outside of the physical protection of closely-knit segregated communities, those were hard days for many people of color in America, especially in southern states like Virginia where I grew up. They were mean-spirited days when being a Black man or woman meant acquiescing to second class citizenship or taking a stand for justice and equality that could result in death. Black and sympathetic White people seeking to expand basic constitutional rights to Blacks, such as the right to vote, were attacked and even killed at the hands of racists who wanted to maintain the status quo of White supremacy.
That time seems incredible to me today even though I lived as a child through those days. I understand it may be hard to digest for many persons born in more recent years. Job discrimination, abject poverty, and as Alabama Gov. George Wallace popularized in the 60s, “Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” were the accepted way of life in many parts of the country.
Fortunately, we don’t live in those days today, in great part because of the leadership and the sacrifices of men and women like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. While we are still a work in progress in our country, we are not where we were during the days that Dr. King lived because he lived. Today, we are hearing a common phrase that is coming from a segment of the country that obviously feels threatened by the changes that have occurred over the past years, mainly as a result of the work of Dr. King and others of the civil rights movement. Their fear was heightened by the election in our country of an African American to the White House.
“We want our country back” is a phrase being spewed in part as rhetoric from the lips of some people who don’t have the same memories of what “back” represents to me and others who have benefitted from the changes our country has undergone. Today that spirit manifests itself as the desire to resurrect the privileges of being first and in control of the destinies and fates of Blacks (and now other cultures and religions) that was afforded Whites whom I saw growing up in Virginia. The resurfacing of the spirt lets me know it never went too far away; it’s been smoldering underground like a dormant volcano awaiting to erupt again.
Recently I heard U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine speak boldly at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. about a current climate of uncertainty that has White people feverish to “take back their country” to a place where they felt more in control and in charge. Kaine, who was addressing Black and Hispanic newspaper publishers during a recent joint summit held by the publishers, recalled growing up in the South of the 1950s and 60s when overt White Supremacy was accepted as normal by Whites. He spoke to the vast improvements since then that civil rights laws and diversity have afforded not only Blacks and other people of color, but also Whites who have benefitted from opportunities that have had their color barriers stripped.
Loss of control is a hard thing to handle when you are in the majority—as Whites have been for the duration of our nation. Abolitionist Frederick Douglass said it best about opposition to the anti-slavery campaign: “Nothing concedes power without a struggle.” As the demographics are shifting swiftly, the majority race in the America of the future will not be White. Kaine said this reality has resulted in a “deep seated emotional kind of anxiety” to hold on to what is most familiar even when it is not working anymore. I like the way Kaine gave some sanity to the insanity of those clamoring to “take back their country”. In any event, we pause at the Guide to remind ourselves and our readers that the short life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was not in vain.