Mistaken Lessons From Martin Luther King Jr.

I was born in the turbulent sixties into a family who believed in justice and equality. They just couldn’t seem to find it for themselves(but that is another story).I was four years old the year that Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and even at my young age I was involved in the civil rights movement. I just didn’t know it. My parents marched for civil rights while Pete Seeger played on the turn table. One of the first songs I knew by heart was “if you miss me at the back of the bus….” and I sang it with gusto and had no idea what it meant.

In 1969 my father, Dr. Ken Craven, was a young professor at Wyoming State University when fourteen African-American football players were pulled off the team and expelled.

“English professor Ken Craven stated at the October 19 faculty meeting that he would resign if the players were not reinstated. Some of the other UW faculty members supported the coach, however.” – www.wyohistory.org

Civil rights were ingrained in me from my early years. Everyone is equal…. all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It wasn’t a question in my upbringing. It was a fact just as the sun rose every morning.

When I was in second grade in Denver, Colorado, there was an African-American boy who sat in the desk behind me. I didn’t call him that. I called him by his name. I didn’t call him black when I told my parents he picked on me. I didn’t tell my parents. You just didn’t tell your parents about silly things like little boys pulling your golden locks and commenting on your freckles. it was just stuff that happened. It’s only in hindsight that I realize he was the only African-American in my class. I think he had a crush on me because he stapled my finger with his tiny desk stapler and he smiled. I grinned and bore it. It’s what kids did (unless some adult told them to act differently).

That year Keyes v. School District No. 1 was argued in the Supreme Court (Denver, Colorado)-October 12, 1972 and decided June 21, 1973.

“The Board was found guilty of intentionally segregative acts of one kind or another with respect to the schools listed below” (which I will not list).

Which brings me to  mistaken goals.- All men should be treated equally. Not true. A terrorist should not be invited in for tea. A drug dealer would not be a welcome addition to the neighborhood. A teacher who harms children would not be an educational blessing to the staff at the local elementary school. The truth is…All men were created equal.

13 For You did form my inward parts; You did knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14 I will confess and praise You for You are fearful and wonderful and for the awful wonder of my birth! Wonderful are Your works, and that my inner self knows right well.

15 My frame was not hidden from You when I was being formed in secret [and] intricately and curiously wrought [as if embroidered with various colors] in the depths of the earth [a region of darkness and mystery].

16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance, and in Your book all the days [of my life] were written before ever they took shape, when as yet there was none of them.- Psalm 139

All are equal in the sight of the Lord. Our conduct and character do not give us approval status. We already have it. However, we will be treated based on our conduct and character.

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”- Martin Luther King Jr, I Have a Dream speech

The second mistaken lesson is … by any means necessary.…We see it in the headlines. It scrolls across our TVs and we sit mesmerized in disbelief. I remember my parents with the same look on their faces when they watched the news in the late sixties and early seventies. We kids were constantly shooed out of the room. Something serious was happening. Something scary. My dad told me years later that the first time he heard a student call a police officer a ‘pig’ (in the sixties) he thought, what have I done? I didn’t want to turn these kids against authority. He just wanted equal rights for everyone. Peaceful demonstrations.

“But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”-Martin Luther King Jr, I Have a Dream speech

The truth is… Peace is not devoid of opposition but that opposition must be met with moral values or soul force.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”-Martin Luther King Jr, I Have a Dream speech

Let’s set race aside because there is only one race, the human race. There are different cultures (that’s another post). We cannot begin to solve these issues that divide our country unless we truly believe that we are all created equal. We each have the same value. Peace must be fought for with soul force, that is the mind, the will and the emotions. When you look at person, do what my parents taught me, do not see the color of their skin, see the color of their soul. Is it dark with trauma? Extend mercy. Is is yellow with joy? Rejoice with them. Is it stained by ignorance? Be patient and educate them. Is it gray with hunger? Feed them. Is devoid of color altogether? Embrace them and let them know they are loved.

“And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

                Free at last! Free at last!

                Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

-Martin Luther King Jr, I Have a Dream speech

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