2018-01-01 / Features

The dream lives on

Editor was in Memphis when shots rang out

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the April 4, 1968, death of one of America’s greatest heroes and civil rights icons. I find myself thinking back to that fateful day in Memphis and all that has happened since that time in our country.

I was a college student in the troubled Bluff City on the banks of the mighty Mississippi at the time. Dr. King had come to town in response to a strike by Memphis sanitation workers, who were mostly black. Many of my classmates – black and white -- were involved in a supportive planned march. If anyone on that small Presbyterian-supported campus had negative thoughts about Dr. King’s visit, they kept them to themselves.

But someone had more than negative thoughts that day. James Earl Ray had hate-filled, murderous thoughts. Tragically, he found the opportunity to act on them.

Hours after the unthinkable happened, my father came to collect his daughter and take me home. Many other parents did the same. The campus wore a shroud – a death wrap for dreams and the dreamer they had just seen die.

No one knew what to expect. Would fear and hatred rule the day, or would Americans remember what the slain pastor and crusader for equality and brotherhood had not only preached but tried to live? Would they take up the banner and make Dr. King’s dream come true, or would factions on all sides retrench and refuse to move forward peacefully?

What I remember most about my own experience that night was the drive through the heart of a city I had loved on a highway that would lead me home to a small town whose high school had been peacefully integrated only a few years earlier, while I was a student there.

Those usually vibrant city streets were silent and still on the surface all around us, as people huddled in their homes. But there was an almost palpable tension that radiated from behind closed doors.

Fifty years later, the tension sometimes seems to be growing. People of different races and ethnicities often seem to be unable or unwilling to trust each other enough to try to face our problems and commit to fixing them.

Dr. King spoke often of what he clearly viewed as the most important component in not only learning to live with others in harmony and with mutual respect, but learning to live with ourselves in an attitude that translates into seeking the best for all people.

These are some of his most important words:

• “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

• “Forgiveness is not an occasional act. It is a permanent attitude.”

• “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

• “Never succumb to the temptation of bitterness.”

• “Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.”

Our country was robbed of his timeless voice, reverberating with such wisdom and hope.

Let us not rob ourselves of the peace and equality he hoped for and reasonable people surely long for.

Let us honor his memory and do our part to make his dream come true by beginning with one simple but life-transforming act.

Let us love each other.

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