Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: Embracing the Dream

 

BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – Wednesday marked the 50th anniversary of the April 4, 1968, assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. The life of the nation’s greatest freedom fighter was cut short by an assassin’s bullet. The tragic moment occurred while Dr. King stood on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn.

Reflections on Dr. King’s life and death were held all over the country, and St. Pete was different. The Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American History Museum in partnership with One City Chorus and Studio@620 hosted a tribute commemorating the life of Dr. King at the Palladium Theater Wednesday night.

One City Chorus, under the direction of Jon Arterton, Sharon Scott, Alex Harris and others provided the music for the evening. They captured the Civil Rights Movement in song, stirring the crowd to get on their feet.

MLK Dream Chorus

On stage sat four green benches that harkened back to a time when they lined the downtown sidewalks. They were a gathering place for residents and tourist alike. Although these famous benches symbolized community, they are also signified segregation, hatred and bigotry.

During Jim Crow St. Pete, black people were not allowed to sit on the benches or even allowed downtown after dark.  As a symbol of progress, program participants of all races sat on the benches as they sung This Little Light of Mine.

The night’s program was filled with Dr. King’s writings and excerpts from his most famous speeches. Performances pieces and spoken word artists also took to the stage in an effort to capture the essence of a man whose work has been relegated to soundbites.

In the 50 years since the transformative civil rights leader’s death, we see the sterilized version of one of the most radical and hated men of the 20th century. With the whitewashed history we’re feed, it’s hard to fathom that he was once classified as a terrorist.

The complexities of his ideas are dwindled down to the “I have a dream” speech.  You’d be hard-pressed to find any of the philosophical teachings he gleaned from Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli and a list of other great thinkers he incorporated in a conversation about his legacy.

In the classroom, we are taught to love and embrace the memory of Dr. King, not the man who called out organized religion, politicians, the Constitution and even the black church. We are not taught to embrace the man who wrote in his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” that:

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens’ Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice…”

Some may ask if Dr. King were alive today, would he endorse the Black Lives Matter Movement with their obstructing traffic and impeding business owners from making money as they protest in the streets. The answer to that question is YES!

Obstructing traffic is exactly what happened on March 7, 1965, when some 600 civil rights marchers headed out of Selma to Montgomery, Ala., to march for voting rights. And as for impeding business owners, what do they think sit-ins and boycotts were?

King’s legacy will continue to be whitewashed and used as a tool for the status quo. It’s up to us to learn and teach our children the real history of this country.

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