©16 January 2005
In coming days marches celebrating the life and legacy of native Atlantan
Martin Luther King, Jr. will held in Northeastern Georgia. I plan
to (knees, back and lungs willing) to march/walk in two. There was
a time when just being white and showing up was enough to add hope
and appreciation. I want to “show up.”
But I am also feeling need for empowerment to know and to do what is
right to refresh and renew my commitment and my hope.
I am aware that context and the varied experience of each individual
influences what resonates more strongly. I freely acknowledge having
probably done less formal study of the Martin Luther King and SCLC
history than of many other politico sociological phenomena of the
The following is my story and only through my unique perspective.
My first real awareness of the power of “showing up.” was following
the assassination of Dr. King, I was among a small cluster of gawky
bedraggled Grady Hospital residents and novice faculty; clad in
well used whites we stood at the corner of Edgewood Ave. and Courtland
Street as the funeral cortege passed by .
Continuing in our work we had been hearing the sounds of the funeral ceremonydrift up to the ninth floor from the Ebenezer P. A. system. The spoken words were difficult to understand but I will never forget the astounding beauty of Mahalia Jackson’s voice as she sang the familiar hymns of mourning and hope. As the services came to an end we walked down to stand on that comer to support our colleagues and patients and pay homage to our neighbor.
As the now famous mule drawn wagon passed our presence was noticed even
among the first line of escorts and many who followed. Several pointed
to us saying “Look! The Grady Doctors!” I have never felt
so undeserving yet so joyful to somehow be making difference.
Many African American poor were our next door neighbors and called “The
Gradies” their family doctor. (It is difficult to comprehend
the excessive idealization with which we were endowed and some certainly
came from our living and working in intimacy. But we had willingly
and unwillingly followed the rigid mores of segregation until it became unlawful.)
I stood hearing the calls and the clacking of hooves and wagon wheels on
concrete. For those moments I understood the imperatives born by
institutions (and the individuals) that are perceived to speak for
the various segments of the community which serve the public; the
imperative to not only do the right thing but to publicly advocate
for the right thing even if it is only through presence, and yes; even if it is dangerous.
“Now that he is dead we may praise him.”
During the period of mourning Atlanta radio stations broadcast Dr. King’s
recorded sermons and speeches. Being friends with and or physician
to players in “American Apartheid” I certainly had been
witness to and even immersed in virtually every aspect and permutation
of atrocities committed by white Americans. However in all honesty
it was only when I paused to hear his words that I became conversant
with what this man Martin King and the movement he inspired and
represented is about. There is so much there and it is so rich one
can only hope to remember to revisit a portion of the knowledge
King trusted the principles of this great nation, calling the Constitution
and the Declaration of Independence “promissory notes.”
not the creations of greedy and evil white men designed to exploit.
He was however realist enough to know among our founders some must
surely have fit that description.
He embraced the principles as they were written. He also trusted that conscience
is inherent in most; that it is human nature to know what is right
from what is wrong. He only called for us all to live up to our
principles and to aspire to behavior reflecting the best of our
nature; to make good on our promissory notes.
In my view this is the major achievement; transforming and empowering
the oppressors to “do the right thing.” It was certainly
not the only. The more familiar gaining access to and or grasping
the political instruments of power to enact laws giving power to
prohibit certain behavior was there and must remain.
From my readings I suspect that even King only came to realize the former
as it began to occur.
It began with would be activists becoming more confident and stronger as
they gathered in clusters and reinforcing their own essence of human
ness and dignity in the kinship, a kinship that has its roots in
ancient African communication and community. Taking from a number
of other historical examples they learned to move into more public
places, beginning to activate those moral imperatives in their oppressors,
disciplining themselves to non violence to counter the false premises
of power to coerce “makes right.”
With successes in civil rights and racial equality In the law they broadened
the scope of interest. King moved into advocating for peace and
withdrawal from Southeast Asia. At the time of the assassination
they were entering into the arena of economic fairness and worker
History continues to be written, at times unwritten and rewritten. It is
likely it may even become lost. But as long as there are humans
who gather it will be found again. That is why I march.
If you don’t want to be changed don’t march. wlw
9 August 2005: Most of the “ordinary folk in this nation
and nations whose governments have followed the terrified and inept
leadership of the United States now realize our impulsive and arbitrary
actions have inflammed, if not created, a catastrophic world crisis.
In addition to the deaths and severe injury of thousands of innocents, those principles so valued and practiced by Dr. King are being breached by government fiat. These include claimed justification of torture, selective suspension of universal (creation endowed) human rights
— even exemption for medical and pastoral practitioners from ancient ethical codes. and now is verging on, if not inciting, resuming the use of nuclear weaponry.
Now we who predicted it and we who had great hopes must in my view
join and take on the almost impossible task that Dr. King, Nelson
Mandela and others from history have assumed. The situation is just
too serious to do otherwise.
We no longer have the luxury of politics, of taking sides, of playing
“gotcha.” — or even hate.
These have been the actions of terrified desperate men .Inept for sure,
but I think, also men of conscience. But they are yet afraid to
behold what they have set in motion with violence and therefore
can only imagine continuing with escalating the violence.
Someone must teach them alternatives.
Great leaders, both of oppressors and the oppressed understand that the
power of terrorism derives from human capacities, the ability to
remember and the ability to imagine the future. I believe and hope
also from conscience. The healing must be human, from the power
of the kinship, the village. We must outreach, relieve their isolation,
enfold them, collectively assume the mindset of peacemakers and
healers and expect that of them.
I begins with the mind set and then seizing each opportunity. I hope it is
beginning to happen around the world now. If not it needs to.
We will forgive, another human capacity, I hope not forget. It is better
to remember the terror than it is to re-enact it.
January 2014: It should also be remembered that it was for workers’ rights and equal access to wealth that Dr. King was in Memphis the evening he was assasinated. Today the extent of poverty and near poverty is now greater than ever. It is critical that we take up this legacy of marching for the rights of all the citizens to a decent standard of living.