I wrote this in February 1992 in response to exchanges between pro and con King Holiday students in the Georgia Southern University school newspaper. Of course some of the accompanying images are later. Since that time my understanding of King and his message has grown. His warnings demanding justice and recognition of our common humanity is more relevant than ever. The dedication and passion for positive non-violent change exemplified by his life is needed more than ever.
Michael T. McPhearson
Times have changed. Many of your goals have been realized, but sadly your aspirations of a nation full of fellowship is still only a dream. I wrote to tell you about a new topic in public debate, the warranting of a national holiday in your name. Yes Martin, a national holiday. A majority of the citizens in this country have seen fit to award you an honor reserved for presidents and the “discoverer” of the continent. All but two states honor January 20th as yours. It is most definitely a tribute to your greatness.
I’m sure if you were here you would reject such an honor and deem yourself unworthy such praise. Many would gleefully agree. There are those who are dedicated to the defamation of your character, and seek to belittle your accomplishments.
Unfortunately Martin you gave them ammunition. As I said, times have changed. Privacy has a new meaning, and though dead men tell no tells; live ones do. Tales of your womanizing ways have surfaced casting doubts on your morality. Accusations of plagiarism have been brought forth, attacking your integrity. For years the pillagers of your legacy could find no blemish to tarnish your shining star. They tried to label you a communist. No one took that foolish idea serious. But Martin as you well know, the truth can be cast as a mighty spear to pierce a false reality. Today many of your champions are wounded by the news that you were not superhuman, but a mere mortal like us.
Was I disappointed? Yes very deeply, but not wounded. Your mortality was not news to me. As I look at my frail and weak mortal self I wonder how strong can any person really be. Then my disappointment turns to anger. If not for you I would not be the man I am. I grow angry because you held not only my future, but the future of the United States in your hands, and you jeopardized it. Yes trivialized it with your selfish indulgences.
But you did not know. You did not know that because of your works America would stand tall and strong cultivating true democracy around the world. You could not have known that your works would one day justify the U.S. pressuring other governments to stop human rights violations. Human indignities such as the South African government’s apartheid policies of injustice against its Black citizens, the Israeli’s treatment of the Palestinians, the Chinese government’s merciless tyrannical rule over its people as exemplified in the Tiananmen Square Massacre, and the former Soviet Union’s past despotic rule over its citizens have brought economic and social pressures from the U.S. to change their ways. Amnesty International, a global human rights watchdog, has major U.S. citizen membership. The U.S. human rights policy would be like the pot calling the kettle black, if not for the sweeping changes of the 60′s. The American human rights consciousness was brought forth by a movement epitomized in you. The civil rights movement has opened the door for all Americans, be they Latino, Asian, Native American, Black, White, Women, Gays, or HIV positive persons to stand up and say “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” America is the Paladin of truth and justice in the world today. Nations believe in us because they can look at our history, our people and see that we are free.
Times have changed, but not all people. Though we as a nation have put many miles behind us, we have many more miles to travel. There is still injustice and despair. Still there is racism and bigotry, but you have given us the tools to fight them. Though my disappointment is deep and my anger strong; I still know your greatness. Everyday as I look around I am reminded. At night when I look in the mirror, I recognize it.
Martin, thank you for being he man that you were, and not showing the world the man you were not. Although we all understand no person is without sin, for some reason we need our she/heroes to
be, or…….. we simply will not believe in them.
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