Monday, January 17, 2011

Martin Luther King: 25th Anniversary Tribute

This is the 25th anniversary of the Martin Luther King holiday as a Federal holiday. I trace back the long thread of those years to that first designated holiday. It was 1986 as both the arithmetic and memory inform me. It was our first winter in our new home. The day itself, I believe, was mild enough to comment on.

We did what a lot of young couples do when a day is given to you free to fill. We used it on ourselves. We went out for breakfast which we happen to like to do. We ordered bacon and eggs and pancakes which we ate with gusto. We read the paper, sipped our coffee. We came home the scenic route which took us along an iced-over river, snowy banks rising on either side.

The memory of the mild gray morning, snowy fields and the breakfast date with my husband is so clear, after such a span of time, because of one specific thing. That particular Monday was speaking to us, carefree as we were. The creation of our own ritual within the new holiday has held as a lasting image because loosely we understood the intent of the day.

It was a baby start but a start. In schools, in the years when our kids were small, the King holiday often served as an opening for studying and celebrating diversity. This, too, was a good start. Many wonderful things start small. They build upon themselves and evolve as a kind of test of time.

The twenty-fifth anniversary is a milestone of sorts. The King holiday is in our makeup. It's in our soul. I wonder, on this occasion marking going forward into the next twenty-five years, what Dr. King would want us to take into the future as his continuing legacy.

His greatness is never in doubt. His stirring words will move the generations. His natural leadership, in the speeches that sang with poetry and rang with passionate oratory, rallied and repelled. Standing to the crowds Martin Luther King shook the country's conscience.

He was a lightning rod for change. Racial inequalities needed to cease. They needed to be corrected and this seemed feasible only by something close to social revolution. Oh yes, the man had mountains to climb.

When he scaled those heights, like the prophet he was, he called out. I have a dream, he said. I have a dream.

Like a shaking off of slothfulness, or as rising from a deep slumber, a purposeful rumbling grew. It got stronger and spread. We Shall Overcome, the marchers sang. The dream was received into the world.

America and its people went through birth throes in the loss of innocence that began with John F. Kennedy's assassination in 1963.

By the year 1968 there was no naivete left. Within months of each other King and Robert F. Kennedy, impassioned voices for the unclaimed and the unheard, vital men at the height of their powers, were dead. And people wept and wondered as they fell.

Many use today, the Martin Luther King holiday, as a day for volunteerism or service. Some take time to reflect. We look up his speeches. We study the quotes. We inspect our attitudes in the light of his light. We have learned. As a nation we continue to grow.

-honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 1929-68.

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