I wonder what he’d be thinking, had he lived. He would be 89 tomorrow and there’s no guarantee that all of those marches and near death experiences — not to mention the stress of it all — wouldn’t have taken its toll on him by now. But we’ll never know, will we? James Earl Ray assassinated the “Dreamer” when he was 39. This coming April will mark the 50th anniversary of his death.
King would fall in April 1968. Robert Kennedy would fall not two months later. One in Memphis, the other in Los Angeles. They were tied together by the hope they created for a better life — not just themselves — but for millions of others.
What would King see if he could look across the horizon of America today? The Jim Crow laws that dominated the South have disappeared. The lynchings have stopped. Black folks and white folks work side-by-side and job opportunities in almost any profession seem open to all based on ability and not restricted because of one’s race.
But all is not well. I believe King would look at our prisons brimming with young black men and wonder what he had been fighting for. He would look at many black neighborhoods — broken down and decrepit and shake his head in grief. He would look over the educational landscape and see re-segregation taking place in school districts from coast to coast.
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He would look at the plight of single motherhood and wonder what happened to the black family in the 50 years since he left this earth. He would fondly remember that while alive, the majority of black children were raised in two parent families, but he’d look at the statistics in horror with more than 70 percent of black births being to single mothers.
He’d look at the voting statistics and cry out. He’d remember those who risked their lives, young and old, black and white, and the many who died seeking that basic American right: James Chaney, the Rev. James Reeb, Jonathan Myrick Daniels, Harry and Harriette Moore, Viola Gregg Liuzzo and so, so many more. Did they give their lives for naught?
King would also look around the country and notice some things haven’t changed much. Hatred, based on race, has survived all these years. The same sort of people who wore sheets and hoods in the 1950s and ‘60s are now wearing business suits and loafers.
I wonder what he would have thought about Barack Obama becoming president? When he was marching in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia, I’m fairly certain the possibility of an African American president wasn’t in his dreams or else I think he would have said so when he talked about the mountain top.
If you remember, the first part of that speech, given on April 3, 1968, he was having a conversation with the Almighty. God asked him, “Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?” King thought he’d like to go to Egypt to watch God’s children escape across the Red Sea. He went through several scenarios, from Mount Olympus to see “Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Euripides and Aristophanes assembled around the Parthenon.” King would end the introduction of his speech, by telling the Lord, “If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the twentieth century, I will be happy.”
We all remember the conclusion of this prophetic address delivered at Bishop Charles Mason Temple, “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life — longevity has its place,” King said. “But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. And so I’m happy tonight; I’m not worried about anything; I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
The next day, the Dreamer was dead, but more of us are fulfilling his dream today than ever before.