When you are 11 years old, you see things as only a child can — especially history in the making. However, one-half century later some things still look the same. As we reach the 50-year anniversary of the silencing of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I am trying to see things differently.
I remember occasionally seeing the famous old preacher man, who was only in his 30s, on television and hearing really old people admire and revere him. We were told that he was someone we should aspire to emulate, someone we could portray in February. Then he was killed. Taken out in his prime at such a young age.
Overnight, it seemed as if all the people who had admired him began reacting in a manner that was diametrically opposite his teachings. Suddenly we were supposed to hate those who King said we should love. The “brothers” of another color he spoke of became our enemies. Television showed violence erupting on the same streets he peacefully walked. The violent takedown of a good man brought out the worst in others.
Then, 50 earth orbits flew by. Here we are still trying to learn how to get along or at least respect our differences. King was peacefully exercising his First Amendment right when he was muted by someone exercising his Second Amendment right to bear arms. Not in a hail of bullets from a high-powered, automatic weapon, but with a single shot. One bullet went through the messenger and killed the message.
Although, there may be a large school of thought that espouses the idea that King was killed because he was black, I don’t subscribe to that. Too many others before and after him who were not black have met a similar fate. King was a pre-eminent master of the right of freedom of expression. He was effective in his efforts to point out injustice by the government big and small. He had the ability to speak in the vernacular that the oppressed and the oppressor understood equally. He had the ability to walk peacefully while disrupting the status quo.
Unfortunately, someone like that, even in today’s America, “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” is not always welcome.
I am now fortunate to be one of those “old” people, but I am still trying to see things differently. I see a new generation of young people marching to the beat of the same drum King heard. I hear them calling out their government to respond to what they perceive as a threat to their safety and existence. I feel the powerful rumbling undercurrent of their peaceful exercise. I pray they aren’t silenced.
However, at 61, I still don’t understand why we continue to want to silence peaceful people merely because we disagree with them. I still don’t understand why so many don’t get it that the Second Amendment came after the First Amendment because it is to protect the first, not squelch it. Or that those who exercise their freedom of speech don’t speak out for those who wish to maintain their right to bear arms of their choice.
King had a dream “that one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls.” I have a hope that one day young men and women protesting for good government will be holding hands with young men and women carrying guns supporting their right to protest.
My sadness of King’s assassination has been replaced by the sadness that in 50 years since, we have not learned much. Thus, his death was in vain.