A very good friend of mine approached me the other day to say how much she enjoyed reading my column. I thanked her. She asked me to write something about a recent disappointing experience she had.
I initially suggested that she write, in her own words, what her experience had been. She demurred and then gave me much to think about since then. Here it is.
On Aug. 28, the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial opened to the public in Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital. This memorial is in commemoration and culmination of decades of the movement towards gaining civil rights for blacks and other minorities in the United States of America.
This is a really big deal. There are many presidents, war heroes and others who have given their blood, guts and glory for this still relatively young nation. Many of them have had to settle for, perhaps, only having their photos hung in a public building.
So what does this have to do with my friend?
On a recent visit to the Civil Rights Museum in Montgomery, Ala., my friend found the museum had closed early because of lack of attendance, although the director did return to give their group a tour. Also, the signage was small and did not support the importance of this being the cradle of the Civil Rights Movement.
With all of that in mind, and inn anticipation of the dedication of the MLK monument, my friend wondered how far we may have come towards full citizenship in this country. Lastly, under the Obama administration, she wondered just how much memory of the Civil Rights Movement is kept, or even treasured, as we continue to struggle to “keep hope alive.” She said, upon reflection about Obama’s struggle, and in the face of so much criticism of him, that “he has to kill the alligators before he can clear the swamp.”
My friend spoke further of her experience in that Ebenezer Church museum, from its basement to the pulpit, where she felt the presence of the faith (in God) and the tenacity of men and women, who, through their individual courage — many uneducated — followed a visionary, one who helped us see, in one of his dreams, the very black president that we now have.
Does the following sound familiar?
“I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and justice for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, other-centered men can build up.”
No, that is not Obama 2010 but MLK circa 1963.
So we now have a gigantic statue, in a beautiful park, as a wonderful tribute to the “King” and there is still the outstanding question: Where are the gains from the movement? Or, more importantly, what have we lost since the movement ended?
I think my friend could have done without a statue and would have been more excited about a renewal of the movement towards greater gains in the rights of all people in the United States. This movement should not be driven by presidential politics but fueled by the unfinished business of guaranteeing human dignity to all.
Like thunder rolling down, I anticipate the wrath of Martin Luther King for the attention paid to this monument at the high price of losing his legacy.
His words and, indeed, the works of MLK, have become part of the everyday – yet we forget.
Antonia Williams-Gary is a consultant with Miami-based Savings and Grace Enterprise. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org