LET’S DO BETTER
Dear Dr. King,
This week, America celebrated your birthday. There was a lot of talk about the letter you wrote to your fellow clergyman while you were jailed in Birmingham. People continue to be impressed by that letter, coupled with the many marvelous literary documents and quotes from you that changed the hearts of Americans. You wrote that letter such a long time ago, April 16, 1963, as a matter of fact. You were only 34 years old! The letter was so well written, filled with historical facts and a strong case was made for the end of segregation, racism and unfairness. Your letter made a great number of politicians, and white and black people (some of us were unconvinced that your approach to justice was correct) say, “This man’s message is on target.” We still wonder how, at 34 years old, you were so smart. We’re kinda of ashamed to say, we don’t know any 34-year-olds as smart as you. Actually, we don’t know any 85-year-olds as smart as you. You are 85 years old! We might as well “tell the truth and shame the devil,” we don’t know anyone as smart as you, smart enough, that is, to get America out of this mess.
A lot has changed, but some things are the same, since you left us. One new phenomenon is this “letter writing business.” Progressive sociologist and psychologist, and they’re on all of the talk shows, tell us to write letters when we are in emotional pain. These professionals believe when troubled people write about their troubles and express their feelings of hopelessness, the healing process can begin. So, we’re feeling what you felt in that lonely jail cell. You wrote:
“You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham, but you fail to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of local analysis that deals merely with the effect and does not grapple with underlying causes.”
We feel some well-intentioned people have tried to nullify unfairness, injustice and racism that still exist in this country, but are either unwillingly or unable to deal with the underlying causes. Perhaps, potential leaders fear repercussions, don’t have the endurance, lack the faith, can’t sacrifice the financial lost, or maybe there is no one quite smart enough to mobilize a real movement for equality.
You said your Birmingham letter was lengthy and you apologized for taking up too much of the clergy’s time. We think our letter is getting lengthy and we are rambling. We’re just puzzled. We wish you could attend some of our meetings on violence, poverty, joblessness and mis-education. You would conclude the aforementioned conditions are growing, not declining. And, you would see just how “lost” we are as to what to do.
You spoke at Ohio Northern University on Jan. 11, 1968. While we celebrated your accomplishments on your birthday, last week, we were amazed that we have the same concerns in 2014, that you expressed at the university. Politicians use different language than they did during the civil rights movement, but the message is the same. Politicians no longer talk about blacks, “pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps,” but rather they speak of personal responsibility. Your speech included the fact of blacks’ release from physical slavery, but there was no land given to the released slaves to make that freedom meaningful. Well, there have still been no reparations.
You spoke of white farmers and white entrepreneurs receiving low interest loans, while blacks were not privy to the same. Farmers are paid today, not to farm. Large corporations are bailed out of bankruptcy with government dollars, while low income families are victims of food stamp cuts. Memphis, Tenn., city employees, who collected garbage, were not paid a living wage in the 1960s. The minimum wage in 2014 is $7.25 hourly and was last increased in 2009!
Violence is running rampant in our cities and young black males are the prime victims of homicides. Black males are also more likely to drop out of high school, are jailed at alarming rates for drug usage, while their white counterparts receive less convictions for the same or similar drug crimes.
We are just venting, Dr. King. Sorry. But, we need to ask a favor. Is there anyway you can help us find a leader of your caliber? We need someone who can mobilize a movement for justice and equality; someone bold enough to die for the cause; someone who recognizes the problems are national and every “hamlet” (your word) needs to become involved. Perhaps, marching is “Old School.” Maybe boycotts are too grassroots. Possibly, college students are too comfortable. Yet, you managed to motivate the reluctant to join the movement.
In some ways, we have become really smart. You should check out our technology. Yet, technology can’t get us a message from you. We have heard people say “God told me to tell you.” However, we neither know how to send messages to heaven, nor receive them. But, you’re special and smart, and you know God personally. We suspect you can figure out a way to show us the way.
Please move swiftly, Dr. King. We are desperate. Do you remember Oleta Adams? She put it best. You can reach us by railway, trailway, airplane, or caravan, with a message carried by an Arab man. You can reach us by sailboat or have anyone in a tree swing rope to rope. It doesn’t matter how, Dr. King. Just get us the message as soon as you can. Thank you.