Today, I was thinking about the death of MLK forty-five years ago, and Ella Baker's essay "Bigger than a Hamburger," came to mind. In the essay, Baker critiques the cult of personality that surrounded King and other (male) civil rights leaders. But when King died, he wasn't the man of adulation and crowds, he was a man tired but not broken by the weight of his responsibilities and the world's suffering. He knew how his life would end, and still kept on, marching with sanitation workers in Memphis, who were striking for better pay and improved working conditions.
Baker reminds us of the goals of the young people she mentored. Those goals were not only to improve their own lives, the lives of their friends, their family, or people who share their racial identity, but rather to make the world a better, more equal place.
The sorrow, frustration, and rage that followed King's death remains written on the bodies of so many American cities. Those scars mark a moment in time, but the other scars of discrimination and inequality keep rising. Today, I rode a bus filled with students from the local "struggling" high school. Black and brown students (90% in a city that's 55% white), low-income students (85%), all taking the bus to the central bus station downtown where they would likely transfer to another bus on the trip back home. On my way back I walked, which took me past two private schools (world class!) with well tended lawns and young white students playing, older white students playing lacrosse.
Maybe our slogan for the marriage equality fight should be: "equality, it's bigger than a diamond ring."
If they were still here, I think Martin and Ella would be marching with us, but we owe it to them to remember the real goal of the fight.
This is a link to King's final "Mountaintop" speech, which remains an incredibly powerful piece of oratory.