The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on January 19, 1986 · Page 4
Get access to this page with a Free Trial

The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 4

Salina, Kansas
Issue Date:
Sunday, January 19, 1986
Page 4
Start Free Trial

Opinion The Salina Journal Sunday, January 19,1986 Page 4 HRI Mitel T 1 1 he Journal Founded in 1871 HARRIS RAYL, Ed/tor and Publisher KAY BERENSON, Executive Editor SCOTT SEIRER, News Editor LARRY MATHEWS, Assistant News Editor LORI BRACK, Weekend Editor JIM HAAG, NightEditor MARY JO PROCHAZKA, Associate Editor Take on the dream Tomorrow this nation will, for the first time, observe a federal holiday in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Many are too young to remember the times when he worked for equality and justice. Born as Michael Luther King on Jan. 15, 1929, in Atlanta, he became Martin Luther six years later, when his father renamed himself and his son after the Christian protester of the 1500s. It might have been a prophecy. As King grew up, he was influenced by the writings of Henry David Thoreau and Mahatma Gandhi, among others. Thoreau wrote of civil disobedience to an unjust government; Gandhi, of passive resistance. Like Gandhi, King would practice and preach non-violence, but die a violent death from an assassin's gun. King rose to prominence in the mid- 50s, after Rosa Parks, a black woman, refused to move to the back of a bus to yield her seat to a white man in Montgomery, Ala. King led blacks in a boycott of the city's buses, which lasted for more than a year, until the U.S. Supreme Court declared the bus segregation unconstitutional. From there, King's non-violent social revolution mushroomed. With his preaching of "We shall overcome," he gave fellow black Americans hope that they one day would be treated equally and fairly in their homeland. With marches that moved to the north, King opened the eyes of white Americans, who had chosen to see race problems as an exclusively southern problem. King is the third individual to be honored by a federal holiday, and the first black. But any temptation to consider tomorrow a holiday for blacks alone would greatly underestimate King's work. King had dreams for all of his countrymen and for the world. He recognized the broad nature of injustice and the threat its existence posed to all people, even if just a single group was targeted at a particular time. King fought for American values — beliefs in equality and justice that are set forth in the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Pledge of Allegiance. King might be pleased at progress made since his death. At times, we seem to have moved to a colorblind society in which citizens are judged by the content of their character instead of the color of their skin. But we have far to go. Last year, while a white minority used force to keep the black majority voteless and powerless in their South African homeland, whites in Philadelphia fought the entry of blacks into an all- white neighborhood. King's legacy to all Americans is to make his dream our own. By doing so, on the holiday named for him and on every other day, we can truly honor his memory and vision. "I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of nuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality." — Martin Luther King, accepting Nobel Peace Prize, December 1964. Why blacks/ in U.S. or South Africa, can't wait Quotation "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self- evident; tha tall men are created equal.' "I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. "I have a dream that my four little children wiU one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. "This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we wUl be free one day." — Excerpts from a speech Martin Luther King gave at Washington, B.C., Aug. 28,1963. King awakened U.S. to its truth It seemed especially fitting that President Reagan led off observance of Martin Luther King's birthday by praising him to black school children in Washington as "a great man." Only three years ago, when the King federal holiday bill was being debated, and Jesse Helms was branding King a communist, Reagan maligned his memory by saying only time would tell. It is especially fitting that King's birthday was observed by Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese defending his effort to weaken fair employment standards. It is especially fitting that the day was marked by Jesse Jackson, who had been with King when he was killed, being turned away from the door of the Justice Department, where he'd gone to protest the Reagan administration's civil rights record. All this was fitting because it served to remind us that it is a tenuous triumph being celebrated by this holiday. We've a very long way to go yet on that march from Selma to realization of King's dream. In many ways we've backslid. Affirmative action is being reversed. The Civil Rights Commission acts as a brake rather than goad in the equality struggle. Political parties have become more polarized along racial lines. The economic gap has widened not only between white and black, but between a few prosperous blacks and a growing mass of black poor. Television focuses on a handful of black athletic idols while unemployment, ignorance, drug abuse and despair grow among the mass of black youth. King would acknowledge all this with pain but not despair. Time didn't matter, he preached to his followers, when the goal was inevitable. When they asked How Long? he would chant: "How Long? Not Long!" He had been to the mountaintop and seen the dream. I watched a film the other night that traced his march and replayed his principal speeches. What power and emotion and lasting impact there is in that voice. There is simply no other like it in any other leader, in any time. Even Kennedy and FDR pale by comparison; Reagan the great commu- John BOSTON—When Dr. King was alive, some who said they were opposed to segregation nevertheless harshly criticized him. He was mixing religion in politics, they said. He was too provocative. He was too impatient. He should allow time for the South to work out its racial problem. I remembered all that the other day when I read a piece reviling Bishop Desmond Tutu for his efforts to end apartheid in South Africa. The piece was by Raymond Price, who was a speechwriter for President Nixon and now writes a newspaper column. Price deplored the idea of "priests entering the political arena." He said Bishop Tutu spouted "nonsense" in calling for economic sanctions against South Africa. The U.S. campaign for sanctions, he said, simply made young blacks there "less willing to accept the progress that could be made and more adamant in demanding, instantly, what cannot be achieved without the patience they are taught to refuse "What South Africa needs above all else," Price wrote, "is time: time to work through its difficulties and to make the intractable tractable. But time is not what the Bishop Tutus are willing to give it. They're too impatient, too dogmatic, too uncompromising." That advice is not at all unusual. The black majority in South Africa is always being told to wait for change, to be patient, not to rock the boat. When I read such advice, I always wonder how the people who give it would feel if they happened to have black skins and live in Soweto or Crossroads. Would Raymond Price be patient if he could not vote or live with his wife? If a minority of another color held all political and economic-power in his country? If that Anthony <4~^ Lewis t jTiBBi NEW YORK TIMES minority's government threw him out of the home where he had lived for years and transported him 500 miles to a desolate "homeland"? If soldiers marched through his town shooting into crowds? The truth is that South African blacks have been extraordinarily patient over generations. Americans who visit South Africa and open their eyes wonder at the ability of the blacks to maintain their dignity and their sense of humor under circumstances that would drive us mad. The other obvious truth is that patience has not brought the black majority a crumb of political power, or the civil rights that Americans take for granted. Nor has economic prosperity changed the racial system, as opponents of sanctions often claim it will. During years of enormous economic gains South Africa tightened the noose of apartheid and transported millions of blacks to "homelands." That is .why blacks have protested in South Africa over these last 16 months, at the risk of their lives. They see that patience will not end their misery. They understand that only two things can change the system: pressure from within and pressure from outside. The standard argument against international economic pressure, repeated by Price, is that it will not work. But it already has shown that it can work. The refusal of American banks to renew South African loans last August had a dramatic effect on Pretoria, and it will make a great difference if the banks continue to demand genuine change. Bishop Tutu, touring this country, wonders why the U.S. applies sanctions to Nicaragua and not South Africa. Price says those against Nicaragua are aimed at its "armed aggression against its neighbors." Has he not noticed that South Africa has sent forces into Angola and Botswana? That right now it is strangling tiny Lesotho? The irony is that Desmond Tutu does not want to be a political figure. But South Africa has imprisoned, detained, murdered or exiled the political leaders as they have arisen. That is why Bishop Tutu and other churchmen speak out—to beg for change before it is too late. Time is running against peace, not for it, in South Africa. Martin Luther King Jr., would be telling us so if he were alive. I looked in a book of his words — a small and valuable book published by the Newmarket Press — and found these: "For years now we have heard the word 'Wait wait!' It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. "Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, 'Wait.' But when you have seen ... hate- filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your 20 million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society ... When you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of 'nobodiness' — then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait." Mccormaiiy Are civil rights gains a new endangered species? HARRIS NFW1 SFRVlrC ^"^ *• HARRIS NEWS SERVICE nicator, reading from his teleprompter, is mute beside King's pulpit. He preached at his own funeral: They played a tape of his last sermon. He will continue to preach, as long as recordings of any kind survive. That will be the difference in this holiday down the ages, the repeated voice of its inspirator, echoing and re-echoing down the years, across the land: "I have a dream... I have a dream...." The program I saw portrayed King's most jolting revelation to the nation, the single act that frightened and angered people the most. The majority of the nation had comfortably consigned segregation and discrimination to the South and most were merely spectators of Bull Connor's police dogs and fire hoses in Birmingham. But then King took his dream north. When he had finished with Montgomery, he went to Chicago. The old films of the Chicago response are as sickening and shameful as anything an American can see — echoes of Hitler's brown shirts and Mussolini's fascist goons. And what a shocker. These were not the slave traders and plantation overseers of Little Eva's lore. These crew-cut, red-faced, beer-bellied terrorists, screaming obscenities, hurling stones and bottles, waving confederate flags and Nazi banners, were Cubs and White Sox fans, union members, precinct workers, communicants in the country's biggest Catholic city. They were us. "I have marched everywhere," King calmly told a TV interviewer in the street, and never confronted people "so hostile and hate-filled as in Chicago." That may have been the most effective thing King did in his ministry — awaken America to the painful realization that racial hatred was an American problem. It still is. Which is why this new holiday is so much needed and still so tenuous. BIRMINGHAM — The official celebration of Martin Luther King's birthday here will center on the dedication Jan. 20 of a statue to the civil rights leader in Kelly-Ingram Park. It stands across the way from the 16th Street Baptist Church, where King and the others came in the spring of 1963 to liberate what he was to call "a community in which human rights had been trampled for so long that fear and oppression were as thick in its atmosphere as the smog from its factories." The legacy of those dramatic days can be found everywhere in today's "Magic City," but especially in the basement of the Linn- Henley Research Library and on the third floor of the nearby city haU. In the basement office, a gentle, white- bearded white man, city archivist Charles Whiting, opens a file from a cardboard box containing the confidential reports that went to police chief Jamie Moore from the officers who monitored King's church meetings. "It's a miracle we have these," Whiting told a visitor. "In 1979, my assistant, Bob Corley, and I were going through a mountain of recorder's court files that had been dumped on the second floor of an abandoned fire station. His foot slipped, and when he looked down, he had kicked over a transfer carton with the files of these surveillance reports." In the cold prose of these hostile white officers' reports, one can recapture the power of the movement that transformed this city and America. On April 8, 1963, for example, officers B.A. Allison and R.A. Watkins went to the First Baptist Church and found it so jammed that they called the fire marshal, who forced some of the crowd to leave. Then, as they wrote: "Rev. C.W. Woods got up and made an appeal saying that... last Wednesday when he was sitting in at the lunch counters that some white men came up and stood behind him. He said, 'When I looked around one of them spit in my face.' He said, 'I looked at him and smiled. All of us should be willing to David Broder WASHINGTON POST give something.' "Then they took up a collection and while this was going on, the choir was singing, 'I Am Bound for the Freedom Land.' "Martin Luther King made his grand entrance at approximately 8:15 to a standing ovation. "After he entered Rev. Y.T. Walker got up and said that Sunday when they was in the park that he was just a few feet from this Negro that the police dogs got hold of, a nonviolent Negro. He said that five police dogs had to subdue this man and he said that it was a sin and a shame that the police had to sic dogs on these nonviolent Negroes .... He ranted and raved for some time .... "Martin Luther King was the next speaker. He said, "The movement is really moving,' and he spoke over and over about the large number of cars and people at the meeting. He said that it was probably the largest meeting held since these demonstrations had started a week ago. He said that he came down here to go to jail for freedom and it's better to go to jail in dignity than to accept segregation. He appealed to the Negroes to stay out of downtown to shop.... "He criticized the police on their brutality toward the Negroes. He said that churches and homes have been bombed and nothing has been done about it. He appealed to the Negroes to go to jail tomorrow. 'Don't worry about anything. We are going to fill all the jails in Birmingham. We are going to turn Birmingham upside down and right side up.'" The reports go on day after day, and the bafflement of the officers grows as they confront the irresistible force of nonviolent protest. By April 26, they are reporting that "Reverend Shuttlesworth told the people that Judge Jenkins was afraid to put them in jail this morning .... Martin Luther King ... said that ... people realize a jail can't stop a movement.... He said that people all over the United States were ready to mobilize a force if we were in jail and were going to march on Washington next Wednesday." From the basement reading room, it is just a short walk to the bright third-floor office in city hall where a quiet black zoology professor, Richard Arrington, has sat as mayor since 1979. ; "Everyone knows what King did to Birmingham," he said the other day. "He held up its practices to the world's examination and forced it to come to grips with its conscience. '. "But only those of us in Birmingham knbw what he did for Birmingham. He allowed us, black and white, to communicate for the first time and to recognize our common goals." It would be nice to end on that upbeat note —but false. Arrington said "it pains me" that in 1986, the Jefferson County suburban schools — predominantly white — will-Bet close to honor King's birthday, as the city schools do. "And it pains me too," he said, that Birmingham's effort to desegregate its police, fire and civil service departments is still being harassed by veteran white city employees — some of whom served with the men who wrote those 1963 reports. Encouraged by the Reagan administration, they are back in court seeking to" block affirmative-action hiring and promotion 'of blacks. So far, they have failed. But th$ir effort to roll back history continues, aided by what we choose to call, with unintended irony, the United States Department of Justice.

What members have found on this page

Get access to

  • The largest online newspaper archive
  • 11,100+ newspapers from the 1700s–2000s
  • Millions of additional pages added every month

Try it free