Martin Luther King Day, 2022
MLK Jr. Has always intrigued me as a leader. In his day he may have been viewed as a radical, but in fact he was just asking America to live up to the words that were so eloquently written by our founders. Our founding fathers were equally interesting. These individuals were as flawed a group of people as we are today, but they knew what was inspiring. They also knew that when inspirational goals are articulated you can move others to action.
MLK Jr. never asked anything of America that we didn’t already set down in print. Think about that for a moment and ask yourself, what could be smarter? He was saying to America “these are your words, not mine, now just live up to them”.
We have been building a “more perfect union” since our inception. We have succeeded in making life in America better over time. Sometimes it is two steps forward and one step back. That’s frustrating but it represents progress.
What is also interesting is that he did not try to change the world in one fell swoop, he challenged us on simple inequities. The freedom to use public facilities as easily as any other franchised American citizens. Riding on a bus and sitting on any vacant seat available would seem to be a simple matter, but it wasn’t. A sanitation worker being able to petition his employer for a living wage in Memphis should have been no more controversial that any other labor dispute, but it wasn’t.
What was also so interesting about this influential preacher was his dedication to non-violence. That course of action was part of his religion, but it was also in concert with actions and behavior of some influential leaders that preceded him. Among those examples were Gandhi, Mandela, and Jesus. His belief in non-violence was deep and sincere. He insisted that this course of action be imbued in those that he asked to follow him. That commitment to non-violence almost cost John Lewis his life. The cost to his followers was great but that course of action probably won over the most unlikely of allies.
President Lyndon Baynes Johnson was a product of the culture of the south. But he taught brown children when he was a young man and he had a place in his heart for the less privileged, white or black, but like so many he went along to get along.
When John F. Kennedy died and he now had the power, he vowed that he would use it. Martin Luther King Jr. forged a working relationship with LBJ and Johnson’s speeches were the road map of where this was all going. This relationship between these two men was deep, real, and sincere. Out of that leadership was born the Civil Rights Act that President Johnson was so proud of.
Essay note: Steve DePass was the cultural ambassador under JFK and was hired by Johnson several times to create entertainment programs at the ranch after LBJ became president. Steve helped me write the last two paragraphs. I am in constant contact with this wonderful human being.