Saturday, January 22, 2011

Senator Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches # 1232

  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The very sound of the name raises powerful images in our minds. The images vary from person to person and group to group. But each is powerful in its own way. I also have my images.

  One of the enduring images for me came at the end of the Selma to Montgomery March on March 25, 1965. Some of us students from Talladega College stuffed ourselves into a Volkswagen Beetle and journeyed to St. Jude just outside the City of Montgomery to join the last leg of the March. We marched from St. Jude to Dexter Avenue, but we were so far down the street we could not see Dr. King’s facial features as he spoke. But I still have a powerful image of the moment.

  My image is of Dr. King saying “How Long?” and the crowd enthusiastically responding, “Not long!”  It is a powerful image of call and response. It is a powerful image of hope voiced by 30,000 persons, each believing that it would not be long before every barrier to full freedom was swept away. He really believed, and we really believed! It is worth revisiting excerpts from Dr. King’s ringing words in that moment.

  Dr. King said: “How long will prejudice blind the visions of men, darken their understanding and drive bright-eyed wisdom from her sacred throne? ... When will wounded justice lying prostrate on the streets of Selma and Birmingham and communities all over the South be lifted from the dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men? ...  How long will justice be crucified and truth beared? ... I come to say to you this afternoon that however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because truth crushed to earth will rise again. How long? Not long: because no lie can live forever. How long? Not long: because you shall reap what you sow. How long? Not long: truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne, yet that scaffold sways the future ... How long? Not long: because the arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice. How long? Not long: because mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.…”

  It was such a powerful moment with such powerful images that I raised it and other images in my speech at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Celebration at Bishop State Community College on Wednesday as I spoke to their theme, Keeping The Dream Alive.

  I also raised the image of Dr. King’s persecution. No celebration is complete without a look at the mountains scaled. He was attacked from all sides. His life was always in danger from constant threats. The life of his wife and children were regularly threatened with death by various means. His home was bombed. He was framed and tried before a “court of justice.” He was jailed numerous times. He was stabbed in the heart and was just a “sneeze away from death.” He was always under FBI surveillance and severe harassment. The FBI, instead of protecting Dr. King, tried to ruin his reputation and force him to commit suicide. Finally he was shot down in cold blood as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis during his efforts to help the garbage men get a decent wage.

  I see in my mind a man continuing to serve in spite of the attacks, threats, harassment, and attempted murder. It is an image of commitment and courage. I see a man seeking the best in us in spite of the realities. It is an image of hope and faith.

  I told the audience that the way for us to keep the Dream alive is to do something ourselves. I explained that Dr. King never went to a single community to help where local people were not already struggling and fighting for freedom. That means we cannot just wait for another leader of Dr. King’s magnitude: We must do something ourselves so such a leader will have something to build in their sojourn.

  I asked the audience to take one minute to speak aloud the names of six leaders in Mobile who were struggling for freedom before Dr. King came on the scene. They gave me at least 12. I wanted to drive home the point that we must struggle regardless of our leaders.

  At the end, I asked each person to stand, bend over, close their eyes and see something in their minds that was weighing on their lives or the lives of those they loved or their community. I asked each to say in his/her own mind what it was and then to slowly lift the weight. I told them that no matter how great the weight they could lift it because when they tried with all their might, help would come. Dr. King had much heavier weights, and he had some help.

  So much hate inhabits this world. So much violence wreaks havoc. So much oppression happens. So much injustice is on the loose. To keep the Dream alive, we must counter hate with love, violence with non violence, oppression with freedom, injustice with justice and so forth. We must be the fulfillment of the Dream in what we do, say and think. That way the Dream will continue to live. However long I don’t know, but a lot longer than if we do nothing.

EPILOGUE – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has become a symbol. The power of symbols is that we see in them what we need to see. I need to see hope and commitment and courage in overcoming great challenges. What do you need to see?

  About the author: Hank Sanders represents the 23rd Senate District in Alabama.

1 comment:

  1. "How long? Not long..." Powerful speech by King and a great post by Senator Sanders.

    Eric Davis