Monday, Jan. 15 is the national holiday honoring the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the great civil rights icon whose life was snatched away by an assassin’s bullet 50 years ago on April 4, 1968. Had he lived, Dr. King would be 89 years old. However, at 39 — in today’s terms a millennial — he died.
There is a disconcerting lack of fervor over the observance of the King Holiday, not just by whites but by Blacks, as well. And just like the Civil Rights movement he led that amassed millions of followers, many Americans fought back with dogs, firehouses, angry words and guns, while most Americans looked on with quiet discontent. Following that fateful day when Dr. King was slain on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee — he was there only to support higher wages not just for the Black sanitation workers, but for all — flames went up and looting spread in cities across the country caused by a few but which impacted the comfort and complacency of most for years to come. Today, we cry out that while the neighborhoods we destroyed have finally been rebuilt around us, many of us have been pushed out.
It was clear before Dr. King died that the work ahead of us, following the desegregation of schools, the passage of the Civil Rights Bill and the Voting Rights Act, was ending poverty, improving education, providing adequate housing and establishing more laws to address the civil, human and economic rights not just for Black or white Americans but for all people. Dr. King opined that all of humankind, interconnected by science and technology, needed to learn how to live under the same roof in a “world house” of peace. Thus, in his last book, he laid the foundation and then posed the question: Where do we go from here: chaos or community?
To urge action, rather than indolence and reflection rather than disregard for this holiday that so many fought for and won, we are all reminded that the King holiday is a “day on and not a day off!” We encourage everyone to take time to honor Dr. King and so many others who contributed to the fight for civil rights and have now laid their heads to rest. They have passed the baton. Dr. King wrote: “There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. This may be mankind’s last chance to choose between chaos and community.”
What do you choose?