Jan 28, 2021 | Atlanta, GA
Thirty years ago, my family had the tradition of going skiing during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. We would drive back from New Hampshire to Massachusetts on Monday evening. One of the public radio stations always played MLK’s speeches all evening long and we listened during the two-hour trip. You would think a seven and twelve-year-old would find this insufferable, particularly when it was repeated year after year. On the contrary, they were captivated.
King was an extraordinary orator. Commonly, he first laid out the conditions of inequalities and discrimination and bigotry Black people have suffered and -- continue to suffer -- in this country. This portion of his speeches always led to difficult questions and conversations with the children: What is a lynching? Why would the color of skin make any difference? Are Blacks really not allowed to go places? Why aren’t there more Blacks in our school? Are Puerto Ricans Black or White? I had responses, but truly had no answers to many of these questions. How do you break the shell of innocence with the reality of evil?
But as the questions got harder and the answers poorer, King always came to the rescue. His speeches would enter a poetic cadence during which he expressed his basic believe in the inherent goodness of humans, and certainly of God.
In his famous address during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, he called for those listening to go back to their homes, no matter how oppressive, “knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.”
"I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let freedom ring…”
At the conclusion of the Selma to Montgomery marches, he repeatedly responded to the question of how long will it take to reach the “…normalcy that recognizes the dignity and worth of all God’s children." He asked, “How long? Not long, because no lie can live forever. Not long, because you shall reap what you sow. How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.”
The wonderful days of ski trips to New Hampshire are long over. But the words of Martin Luther King Jr. still ring clearly in my family’s ears. But, I admit that I do not have the faith of Dr. King I wish I had. As we experience these tumultuous days in our country, I keep asking myself: How long? For how long will the lies persist? When will true freedom ring?
We have been waiting too long.