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The Two Kings Had It So Right


It is of significant note that we celebrate two noteworthy milestones in American history this year. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. received the Nobel Peace prize and the signing of the Civil Rights Bill.

It is so intriguing that now 60 years later that the man and the prize represented what is so fleeing from us today. Dr. King was the master of peaceful protest and respectful demonstrations. He led a powerful band of civil rights kingpins that joined him in the cause of freedom, equality, and economic empowerment, along with human and voting rights.

One only has to think of some of the real martyrs of the cause. Leaders, in addition to Dr. King, who gave it all. The late Medgar Evers, Earl Shinhoster, Vernon Jordan, C.T. Vivian, and Hosea Williams come to my mind. Of course, I cannot omit my dear fraternity brother, the late Congressman John Lewis. They all mastered the phenomenon of peaceful demonstration.

Unfortunately, they have become as rare as the Hope Diamond. What we see today is mockery of their legacy and the underpinning of our constitution. It is our constitution that codifies our right to be seen, to be heard, and identified for what we believe is right.

We do not have a license to mask up, deface statues, spray paint walls, windows, or doorways. It does not include the taking of hostages and destroying college furnishings. As regrettable as these misguided actions are, the conspiracy of silence from our pseudo leaders and safety authorities is perplexing. How can one see the destruction and defacing of property and facilities and think they are, in any way, in the realm of our forbearers and the law? There is another way. There is a better way.

Our forbearers, too, cared about causes. However, they respected the laws, public policy, and yet remained steadfast and kept course toward the goal of raising awareness of those crucial causes.

The level of insensitivity and anti-Semitic actions being exhibited toward our Jewish American friends is appalling. The physical threats, safety discomforts, and disregard for their civil rights can only suggest that our ladder of communication has lost more than a few rungs. History clearly confirms the very special and deep-rooted bonds between Black Americans and Jewish Americans. They have helped to fund, helped in the founding of, and given endless support to vital civil rights organizations of our day. Dr. King made it clear on numerous occasions, though we may have come to America on different boats, we are all in the same boat together now.

Protesters may continue to disrespect our Jewish friends, burn the Israeli flag, burn our own flag, and sow the seeds of hate. However, none of these actions will find the fertile soil so necessary to allow a crop of civility to be harvested for the betterment of our country. Moreover, our HBCU college community may well have forgotten or did not realize the significant number of Jewish professors who came to America and taught at Black colleges and universities. Yes, as you might suspect, they faced those familiar barriers as Black Americans from a number of institutions of higher learning.

I can clearly recall Dr. King coming to my alma mater, Saint Louis University, to speak in the fall of ’64 shortly after receiving his prestigious award. His message was that of civic engagement, civility, and the power of the voting box. He stressed the knowledge that can come from lectures and textbooks; not from the spray can, flag burning, and water hoses. His quote that I remember to this day, “I don’t want the white man to love me; just don’t want him to hang me.”

In my opinion, 60 years hence from the recognition for Dr. King and the signing of the Civil Rights Bill, I am reminded of an album by a famous trumpeter, Miles Davis. We have miles to go. I can envision a tear flowing down Dr. King’s cheek as he looks down at the current acrimony, the lack of civility and the indifference from both our elected and appointed individuals. They seemed to have become masters of the art of benign neglect as it relates to a response to numerous civil disorders. Dr. King appreciated the silence of lambs but revered the roar of lions in the pursuit of peace in the jungle of society. He was able to explain the era of Jim Crow. Not in the sense of tolerance, but in the sense of overcoming its attempt to restraint us from our destiny and our nuclear family. 

As we celebrated and honored Juneteenth, it will be interesting to know if it was more important than just another holiday. More important than those ribs, burgers, or hot dogs on the grill, but remembrance of those responsible for our freedom and its importance and significance to this very day.

The other person who comes to mind during these perilous times is another King. Yes, less renowned than Dr. King but significant, nonetheless. I speak of the late Rodney King out of Los Angeles. Once he recovered and forgave his transgressors, he asked a powerful question that we should not let ring hollow in these times, “Can’t we all just get along?”


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