Here on Wendy Jane’ Soul Shake, I try to think about what has shaped me, and rekindled this conscious desire to make race relations between black and white people a focus in my life now.
Yesterday, was the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. I know that MLK had a lot to do with the strong feelings I developed as a child around social justice for black people. I was only seven years old when he was taken from this world, but I swear I remember seeing images from the funeral on television–of Coretta with the veiled hat that couldn’t hide her grief, of Martin’s children, of the thousands of mourners in the street. I knew who he was. I knew how he was trying to make things fair for black people. I knew how wrong things were from seeing, again on television, images of black men and women being arrested at a lunch counter sit-in, being hosed down by police officers, and being attacked by those officers’ German shepherd dogs.
These things stay with you. At least, they stayed with me.
I never stop thinking of Martin as an inspiration, and a figure of hope, whose words we still need to strive to live by today. So, when I went to Atlanta, Georgia for the first time last summer for a blogging workshop, I was excited to visit the Ebenezer Baptist Church, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Museum.
I wasn’t prepared though, for what my reaction would be upon entering the sanctuary of the church. It was a humble space, not unlike the feeling of the temple I worshiped at as a young Jewish girl growing up in Waterbury. I took in the peach colored walls, the high white, vaulted ceiling, the stained glass windows, and the dark wooden pews resting upon red carpeting. Fresh flowers were on the pulpit. It was as if Martin could appear anytime to give a sermon.
I sat in one of the pews. A recording of one of Martin’s sermons began to play over speakers in the sanctuary. I started to cry. I can’t even remember what was being said. It was his voice. His booming voice, his brave voice, his passionate voice, his belief in equality, and love, and peace, and justice for all voice.
I cried for the next two hours at the MLK Museum, too. I cried when I read about the effects of slavery and institutionalized racism on the psyches of Black Americans. I cried when I read about Martin’s passion and will to fight for racial, and later, economic equality, but also learned of his humanness, his vulnerability, of the times he thought he couldn’t go on, but knew that he must, and did. Until, his life was cut short, and he could no longer fight the fight.
I will never forget what Martin Luther King, Jr. did for this nation, and for all the world to see. And, I will never forget what he did for me, a little white girl watching from afar, but feeling close enough to want to live his dream.