On April 4, 1968 I was a young Marine in a casual company barracks in Okinawa, waiting for my orders to leave for Vietnam. It was actually April 5 in Okinawa, because we were a day ahead in the Western Pacific. It was early morning, and we were getting ready for chow, when the word came that Dr. King had been assassinated. When I had left the States, the civil rights movement was in full swing, but being from the north, I did not fully understand the sweeping changes that were taking place in the country. We didn't have blatant segregation in New York. Not to say that there was not discrimination, there was, but is was a more subtle kind of discrimination. There was discriminatory hiring in jobs, and schools in some towns, indeed, in some areas of cities, were strategically placed so that they were segregated. I had lived in a integrated neighborhood. Blacks and whites living side by side with very little tension in the '50s and early '60s, at least that is what we felt. We went to the same schools and ate at the same lunch counters, when we could afford it.... a far cry from the institutionalized segregation of the deep south.However, the discrimination suffered by the blacks in my northern city was no less insidious than the segregation in the south. Some might say that it was even worse. Our schools were teaching us the American Dream, where anyone could become anything that they wanted. That everyone was equal. But when it came to practice, this simply was not true. If you were black in the North, your chances of advancing were just slightly better than if you were black in the South. Martin Luther King and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference were determined to change that. The methods that they used were civil disobedience and Passive Resistance. Dr. King had learned from Mohandas Gandhi how to effectively protest nonviolently. Dr. King preached love and understanding between all races. He was beaten and arrested many times for his quiet protests. The FBI under Hoover branded him a Communist, and tapped his phones, and monitored his every communication. They tried many tactics to break down Dr. King, but he would not be broken. He and so many others just kept on pressing the issue, holding sit ins at segregated businesses, quiet boycotts of public transportation, marches on Universities closed to blacks. They had dogs turned on them, fire hoses shot at them, and police with clubs who viciously beat them. Workers were murdered, black churches were burned; but still he preached non violence. He was determined to win by preaching love and understanding between the races, completing job that Abraham Lincoln had started a hundred years before. Dr. King was cut down on the evening of April 4, 1968 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where he had come to support the city sanitation workers who were on strike. He was murdered by a petty criminal and racist, who's name is not going to written by me.
Dr. King started my education in race relations, an education that continues to this day. He started opening my eyes to things that I never knew existed in America. Up to that point, I, like so many others, was oblivious. I had many black friends..... I still do to this day..... but I was just blind to the differences in the way that we were treated. Dr. King was relentless in his determination to open the eyes of every American to the injustice of what was going on in America. He knew that he would be killed... not thought that he might.. he knew that he would be killed; but, to him, it was worth it and it had to be done. He was transcendent. He became more that just a man, he became a statesman and a martyr for the cause that was beyond a doubt something that cried out to be taken up. He knew what America was supposed to be, he knew what America could be. He had been accused so many times of hating America, but he said so many time that he loved America and wanted it to be the country that was put forth by the Declaration Of Independence, a place where all men are created equal.
Today, we celebrate his birth. I feel honored to have been born to a time where I could see the transition that Dr. King created. When you live in the time of Giants, you live in awe of what they have accomplished with their lives and you wonder if you can measure up to the challenges that they have put to you. I try every day to be the type of person that Martin Luther King asked me to be. I don't always succeed, but I continually strive to be a better person, because of the example of Dr. King, and JFK and RFK. Every day, I get better at it.
As you go about your everyday lives today, take a moment or two to reflect on Dr. Kings words:
"I say to you today, my friends, even though we face the difficulties of
today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted
in the American Dream.
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; thal all men are created equal". -