A couple of years ago, on a Monday in February designated as Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I drove by a county courthouse in Oneonta, Alabama, and was surprised to see birthday well wishes. You might be thinking they were to honor such an illustrious and peaceful man as King.
They were not.
What I saw was a celebration of Jefferson Davis, the former president of the defeated Southern Confederacy.
Not only were the townspeople of Oneonta unwilling to honor King, but they also went a step further — by celebrating a man who led a civil war in support of the slave trade.
A pall overcame me as I surveyed the brazen disregard and hatefulness. An opportunity for celebration of a great man was turned into a spectacle of Southern pride. An opportunity for racial healing was turned into a racial slap in the face.
According to a Depauw University article, [during the Cold War], “German people started to recognize the other Germans as something different from themselves; in other words, there was a mental barrier between the people of West and East Germany. This difference between the people of the two remains in their conscious and is still present in the reunified Germany. The German people are still on their way to creating a new history as ‘Germany.’”
And this is where the United States is as a country, too, 151 years after the Civil War. Racially, it is all too obvious, as illustrated in Oneonta.
Getting back to Martin Luther King Jr.; in my opinion, anyone, anywhere, who promotes non-violence to solve society’s problems, is worth honoring. Ghandi. Mandela. King.
King followed Christ’s teachings, advocating for the disenfranchised, as Jesus did. He turned up the heat on authority, as Jesus did. And he raised the voice of a people in much need of recognition, rights and freedoms.
He did so by advocating non-violent practices such as marches, sit-ins and boycotts. Jesus did the same, boycotting those who would seek to profit at the temple.
I would like to close this article with some quotes by King. When your words are truth, what better way to be remembered?
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
“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.”
“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality. … I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”
“That old law about ‘an eye for an eye’ leaves everybody blind. The time is always right to do the right thing.”
“Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon. Indeed, it is a weapon unique in history, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it.”
“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”
“The quality, not the longevity, of one’s life is what is important.”
“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
Donna Steele of Greenfield is a member of a variety of community organizations aimed at bettering the city, including Greenfield Main Street and the Greenfield Coalition.