A MARTIN LUTHER KING DAY MEDITATION
This is the second time I have re-purposed a post I wrote a few years ago for the Anniversary of MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The humanity, sacrifice, and love celebrated in this post really stuck with me, and I have rewritten and updated it with new cartoons (yet again) in the hopes that the subject matter will strike a deep chord within all our hearts to give us courage and hope. Let us remember the 50th anniversary of the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the circumstances of his gone-too-soon life, and why the sacrifice of his life was meant for the good of us all—no matter what our race, creed, color, or religion.
Do you know what I discovered as I meditated on Dr. King’s contribution to the United States? Trump and his die-hard minions kept overshadowing Dr. King’s message in my head. In my meditation time, I tried to conjure up Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, but couldn’t stop hearing Donald Trump’s racist fog horn blaring his latest misanthropic screed about not wanting people from “shithole countries” to come to America.
Every person with half a heart and half a brain is labeling Trump’s latest vocal excrement as that of a hardcore racist. His supporters are crying foul and declaring that America is post-racial. After all, didn’t we just have two terms of a Black President, which is why Trump had to become President to “fix” all the mess that Kenyan made?
Let’s see: Trump doesn’t want people from brown countries to come to America, but would love more people from places like Norway—the whitest country on Earth. Hum…if Trump talks like a racist, acts like a racist, then he is a racist! Believe me.
First of all, there is no such thing as a “post-racial America.” If anything, the racism that had been buried for years erupted to the surface when Barack Obama became our President. He was the fulfillment of a dream for Martin Luther King but a freakin’ nightmare for those who are horrified over the browning of America.
Unfortunately, a lot of people who claimed to be Christians got caught up in that net under the very thin guise of cultural politics. I watched White people I once knew and loved from the 70s—who said they loved me—go to bed one night reminiscing about our Hippie commune days where we spouted Evangelical Christian philosophies of love and tolerance, and wake up on the morning of the inauguration of Barack Obama in 2008 spouting racism, fear, and hatred. (Of course, they denied it: It wasn’t because he was Black. It was because Obama was the anti-Christ—didn’t I remember the Bible scriptures that foretold his ascendance?) It’s as if I never knew these people—never broke bread with them—never shared the vision of seeking the grace of God toward all men and women with them.) I watched their eye balls rolling, their mouths frothing, and their heads spinning on their necks in anger at the thought of the White House turning Black. (They would deny this with a vengeance—say that it was about abortion, the war on Christmas and being able to say “Merry Christmas,” but if it talks like a racist, acts like a racist…it will elect a racist when given a chance to do so.)
I tried to calmly, but urgently, address the racism, xenophobia, and homophobia snuffing out the love of Jesus from the hearts of my now ex-White Christian friends (influence who you know), but it only made them more fanatical. It is as if they forgot the history of the Jim Crow era and were doomed to repeat it. As I watched their President (#HELLTOTHENO—NOTMYPRESIDENT) so capriciously try and rescind the lawful rights of refugee Haitians, Salvadorians, and 800,000 “dreamers,” I was bordering on despair until I meditated one morning on our civil rights history. I remembered that there have always been angry White people and cruel American legislators, but there were also those righteous White Americans who fought alongside Black Americans to bring about Martin Luther King’s dream. In most cases, they lost their lives doing so. I especially remembered James Zwerg who lived to tell his story and should be seventy-seven-years old by now.
James Zwerg was the White college student from Wisconsin who’d been raised in a really tight-knit Christian family, and he eventually became a Freedom Rider (civil rights activists who rode interstate buses to force the South to obey Federal Law banning segregation on public transportation). He became a Freedom Rider after seeing his black roommate treated with contempt at Beloit College in Wisconsin. James volunteered to be an exchange student to an all-black college in the South (Fisk University) for a semester so he could get a taste of what it felt like to be a minority.
When James went to Fisk he made a decision to join the Freedom Riders from Nashville to Alabama. James said the morning they set off, he read Psalm 27 over and over again as he prayed that God would give him courage and forgiveness for his attackers. He prayed that the Lord would keep him from striking back if and when he got attacked by the white racist mobs, who considered white Freedom Riders as traitors and deserving of death. The first line of the Psalm he read was, “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?” and the final line that James read was, “Though my mother and father forsake me, the Lord will receive me.”
James was severely beaten along with the other freedom riders (including John Lewis who survived to become one of our most venerable congressmen) by the racists who stopped their bus. When the picture of James’ pulverized body appeared in the local newspaper, his parents never forgave him because they felt, as James’ father so articulately stated: “Those damn niggers used you.”
I remember reading that the parents’ relationship with James Zwerg was never restored even when he tried to explain that he was simply living Christ’s love as they had taught him to do. He was beaten so badly that his teeth were shattered, his vertebrae were broken, he suffered from PTSD, he drowned his sorrows in alcohol for a season, he tried to commit suicide at least once, and he ended up in therapy for months. As I meditated on the sacrifice that Pastor Zwerg made for me and mine, I momentarily forgot the hatefulness of some of the White people I have known in my life as the scripture rang through my head: “Greater love has no man than he lay down his life for his brother!”
Then the roll call of other White Americans who stood brave and tall with all the African-Americans against the racist order of the day came to mind, and I sat for a moment of silence to thank them for laying down their lives so my children and grandchildren might live Dr. King’s dream:
Viola Fauver Gregg Liuzzo, ethnicity: white. Viola was a mother of three children from Detroit and was murdered by Ku Klux Klan members after the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches in Alabama. The last words she said to her husband were that the civil rights struggle: “was everybody’s fight.” (Wikipedia)
Michael Henry Schwerner, ethnicity: Jewish. Michael was one of three Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) field workers killed in Philadelphia, Mississippi, by the Ku Klux Klan in response to their civil rights work. (Wikipedia)
Andrew Goodman, ethnicity: Jewish. Andrew was one of three American civil rights activists murdered near Philadelphia, Mississippi, during Freedom Summer in 1964 by members of the Ku Klux Klan. (Wikipedia)
Paul Guihard, ethnicity: white. Paul was a reporter for a French news service and was killed by gunfire from a white mob during protests over the admission of James Meredith to the University of Mississippi. (Southern Poverty Law Center)
William Lewis Moore, ethnicity: white. William was a postman from Baltimore, and he was shot and killed during a one-man march against segregation. Moore had planned to deliver a letter to the governor of Mississippi urging an end to intolerance. (Southern Poverty Law Center)
Rev. Bruce Klunder, ethnicity: white. Rev. Klunder was among civil rights activists who protested the building of a segregated school in Cleveland, Ohio by placing their bodies in the way of construction equipment. Klunder was crushed to death when a bulldozer backed over him. (Southern Poverty Law Center)
Rev. James Reeb, ethnicity: white. Rev. Reeb was a Unitarian minister from Boston, and was among many white clergymen who joined the Selma marchers after the attack by state troopers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Reeb was beaten to death by white men while he walked down a Selma street. (Southern Poverty Law Center)
Jonathan Myrick Daniels, ethnicity: white. Jonathan was an Episcopal Seminary student in Boston, and he had come to Alabama to help with black voter registration in Lowndes County. He was arrested at a demonstration, jailed in Hayneville and then suddenly released. Moments after his release, he was shot to death by a deputy sheriff. (Southern Poverty Law Center)
Vernon Ferdinand Dahmer, ethnicity: white. Vernon was a wealthy businessman who offered to pay poll taxes for those who couldn’t afford the fee required to vote. The night after a radio station broadcast Dahmer’s offer, his home was firebombed. Dahmer died later from severe burns. (Southern Poverty Law Center)
After all was remembered and gratefully acknowledged, I got up off my knees and turned to face the new day with peace in my heart, knowing that the hatred I see in 2018 will not win the day because there will always be people of all ethnicities who have courage enough to fight for the freedom needed so that everyone, of every color, creed, and gender, can live the dream.
ELEANOR’S “SELAH” (AHA!) MOMENT—
ABOUT BEING FROM A “SHITHOLE” COUNTRY
I am discovering that once upon a time, I lived in a “shithole” country—the United States of America. It didn’t mean that I didn’t love my country, but it did mean that my “shitty” country didn’t treat my peeps and me very well until Dr. King and so many, many others sacrificed their lives to make our government do the right thing. If we don’t want the USA to regress into that “shitty” place again—if we want it to continue the journey and complete Dr. King’s vision—“we the people” have an ongoing, ever-vigilant job to embrace Dr. King’s dream afresh.
There will always be those who will try to turn our great country into a cesspool of hate and divisiveness—including our current President. But for those of us who are “woke,” all we need to do is lock arms with the other “woke” folks and fight the good fight for the rights of our fellow man until the new dawn is upon us.
Let’s make 2018 the year that Dr. King’s dream produces more heroes like James Zwerg, Congressman John Lewis, the nine men and women cited above, and countless others to further fulfill our destiny as a country—maybe it will be you.
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
“James Zwerg remains a devoted loving Christian to this day and what is most important to him is love. ‘I think the thing I would add is love is still the most powerful force in the universe. Hatred will never beat it. Violence will never beat it.’“—Wikipedia
“Until the great mass of the people shall be filled with the sense of responsibility for each other’s welfare, social justice can never be attained.”—Helen Keller
“The function of freedom is to free someone else.”― Toni Morrison
“And yet words on a parchment [the Constitution—parenthesis mine] would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part — through protests and struggles, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience, and always at great risk — to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.”—President Barack Obama
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