Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a civil rights leader. He was not a politician. And some of his lesser known quotes were about the government of this country. As we look back on 50 years since he, along with others, held the March on Washington, the opportunities and advancements that blacks have made have been monumental.
Yet for all the strides forward, there have been as many backward, which has left us, as a people, worse off in some ways than what we were in 1963.
I didn’t get to hear all the speeches made by those who were in Washington this past Wednesday to commemorate the March. But I did get to hear President Obama’s speech. Sadly it wasn’t the kind of speech where one would sit on the edge of one’s chair, anticipating what was going to come next.
Rather, it was a lukewarm rehash of what he has said previously. Although others have recently attempted to co-opt our struggle as if their current fight is anywhere near the same as ours, the truth is forever etched in the films and photos from that era of black people being the recipients of water hoses, dog bites, police batons, bombings and arsonists’ fire attacks.
As I listened to the president’s speech, he said that we (black people) no longer had to shine shoes or do other people’s laundry.
When he said that, it brought back a lesson from a friend. I told him I was going to “make lemonade out of lemons,” and he quickly chastised me because he said that by using that term, I had made it sound as if there was something wrong with lemons.
He was correct. So when I heard the president say it, I immediately thought, “There’s nothing wrong with shining shoes or doing laundry.”
Later on in his speech, Obama managed to throw in the now obligatory mention of the LGBT community, along with a reference to the immigrant who washes dishes.
The crowd’s response wasn’t the rip-roaring applause like he got when he was first elected. But many still view him as the “proof” of Dr. King’s dream while we as a people suffer collectively from unemployment in double digits.
It is our job as citizens to demand of our government what we want. Ask for nothing and nothing is exactly what we get. While I support President Obama being at the rally, he shouldn’t have been the featured speaker. He represents not only the good but the bad in our nation by his position of being head of state.
For the next 50 weeks, I am going to include one of Dr. King’s quotes in my column. I’ll start with my favorites:
“Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that’s all I want to say.”
“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”
“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.'”
“Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.”