We’re closing in on the end of another Black History Month. As I write this, the man who led the movement of our lifetimes would be seven years younger than my mother, had he lived. She still drives. The what ifs that follow are too many to mention and contemplate.
On April 4, 1968, I was in the school library at Georgia Southern doing what we always did in that library, use the Xerox machine and try to meet girls. Copies were 10 cents each, girls cost a movie, popcorn and a coke. Gas was about 50 cents a gallon but you didn’t need a car, as the theater was just a few blocks from campus. News of the day came by radio or somebody’s portable TV in a dorm room or motel.
Most of the generation that sat around the study tables had never gone to integrated public schools, sat with blacks at movie theaters or used the same water fountains as black folks. We were what you might call comfortable in our ignorance, but, nevertheless, innocent in a way because in Panama City, Florida, and other Southern towns, that’s just the way it was.
In ‘68 this group had “escaped” the trials of integration in the public schools and by now had found a safe haven in college, away from Vietnam and the social issues surrounding the country.
I didn’t have an opinion that night at a little after 7 p.m. when the announcement was made. It was a beautiful spring night at college, the huge windows of the library were wide open but our eyes were closed to the life that had been taken just a few minutes before. He was just a guy who seemed to represent trouble on the 6 o’clock news wherever he went, and black folks were just people you saw walking on the side of the highway in ragged clothes.
That was a long time ago and since then I’ve read Malcolm X’s biography and speeches, and listened to Farrakhan’s speeches. And although I have a deep respect for Malcolm X, Farrakhan is coming from a different place.
Dr. King, in my opinion, was not like either of these men. When you read his writings he seems to have no malice for any particular race, only a wish that the dominant race in our country at would wake up to the plight of those poor people we would see walking down the side of the road.
I suppose you could say that back then, I had a “simplified” version of Dr. King rolling around in my head. Do I have “white guilt”? Do I have a soul? No, that’s going a little too deep with this stuff. Have I done enough over these many years to help make “equality” a “reality”? Did I ever march? Truth is I never stuck my neck out further than a turtle neck shirt.
To be honest, I don’t think we can ever get there. I think mankind will be in Dr. King’s struggle, searching for what we know as “agape love” until whatever you consider to be the end happens, be it the Second Coming or Al Gore’s scorched Earth scenario. The important thing is what we do in the meantime.
Here are two things I’d like to see happen right here in our own backyard with regard to race relations. First, I’d like to see more churches inviting churches of different colors to their worship services and picnics. If you’re all Baptists, that shouldn’t be a problem. If you’re something else, ask God’s advice on the matter. Second, I’d like to take away the assumptions that we like black folks because they’re black and they like us because we’re white. Sometimes we like others not because of their skin tone but maybe they’re just likeable.
I have others but I’m tired. The man, who would be just 89 years old this year was nothing short of brilliant, regardless of his human flaws. He was a Nobel laureate, known as much for his ability to write as speak. He set our country on a path to righteousness we will probably never achieve but will feel better for having tried. In one of his sermons on love, Dr. King quoted Immanuel Kant when he said, “Every man should so live that he treats every other man as an end and never as a means.” (“Levels of Love,” sermon, 1962).
As we exit another Black History Month maybe that would be a good way to live until the next one rolls around. By the way, if you’ve never read that sermon, you’re missing a real thought provoking treat.
Sonny Harmon is a professor emeritus at Georgia Military College. Visit his blog at http://sharmon09.blogspot.com.