It was already a beautiful day as I observed the sun shining through the window and then I clicked into facebook where these words brightened my outlook even more: “Today, I marched with his son to symbolize that the struggle is not over and our will to fight has not died. You did not die in vain…R.I.P. Martin Luther King Jr.”
My granddaughter, Kinya, shared such sentiments after a march in Memphis where Martin was felled 45 years to the day. It warms my heart that she took part in such an assemblage, considering that my progeny, unlike me, are not among those who hit the streets with slogans and songs in pursuit of justice and dignity. They just don’t do that. But I don’t despair because I know they care and pursue a better world in their own ways – as loving people, I’m proud to say.
But there was Kinya along with 100’s of union members and their supporters paying homage to the sanitation workers strike that brought Martin to Memphis. His son, Martin Luther King III, was one of the speakers at the occasion. Kinya met him and I know how intoxicating that can feel, as after shaking his dad’s hand close to 60 years ago I felt all aglow and firmed up my commitment to be the activist that I am today. I hope Kinya is feeling as heady as I did and gets more and more involved in the issues of the day because there’s always something to do.
Sometimes, though, it can seem like an impossible dream trying to make the world a better place. In the play, “I Am a Man,” T.O. Jones, the main character, cries out: “All the marchin’ and jailin’ and beatin’s! All that starvin’ and prayin’ and downright cryin’! King dead! Murdered! What we git in return? One piece of paper and eight bright, shiny pennies. Not even thirty pieces of silver! Eight pennies and a maybe! Ain’t a damn thing change!”
But surviving Memphis striker, the Rev. Leslie Moore, who joined the marchers when they arrived at the National Civil Rights Museum, built on the site of the old Lorraine Motel where King was shot down, looks at it another way. He says: “Something lifted off of us when Dr. King came to Memphis. Before he came, we had a hard time. When he came, it looked like everything brightened up, a light began to shine out.” Moore, 66, was in his early 20s at the time of the strike. He still drives a truck for the Memphis sanitation department.
I get the idea that that light still shines for this hardworking man. I’m sure working for the sanitation department today is better than it was back in 1968.
Oh, but it can be slow, don’t you know. King’s son made it clear, when he spoke, that workers still face challenges like those they encountered back then. Pursuits of racial and social equality never end.
My granddaughter is keeping King’s dream alive. The issue that brought him to Memphis was one of injustice, the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its dealings with its public servants, its sanitation workers. Today they are engaged in a struggle to end a 4.6 percent pay cut that they were forced to accept unjustly.
The night before Martin was shot he said “Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for rights.” Kinya’s involvement indicates that she sees a need to continue such pursuits of basic civil rights, the rights of poor people to be treated fairly.
Martin also spoke to the threats against his life – as though he felt the end coming, saying: “Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
And my eyes have seen the glory of my granddaughter marching at the front of the line in Memphis, doing what must be done if there’s ever to be a just world for everyone. Her eyes are on the prize and that fills me with an almost indescribable pride.
Before signing out of facebook I discovered a video on my timeline of Bobby Kennedy announcing Martin’s assassination to a gathering of black people in Indianapolis, the only major city where, many say thanks to him, there was no rioting after the assassination. He spoke ever so brilliantly to how Martin devoted his life to love and to justice between human beings and that we, as a people, should seek, in our anger, ways to continue his teachings, ending with: “Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the light of the world.”
That’s what I see Kinya doing. Like a line from one of my favorite Sunday School
songs growing up, I’m hearing her say, in her actions:
“This little light of mine I’m gonna let it shine.
Let it shine/Let it shine/Let it shine.”
Shine on, baby girl, shine on. Because of people like you, acting in his name, our beloved Martin has not died in vain.