Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would be 89 this week. Like others killed in that era, John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy, he is forever etched in our mind as the eloquent 39-year-old young minister. The vibrant and handsome John F. Kennedy would have been 100 last year. His brother Bobby, who also died 50 years ago, would have just turned 92.
I was 7 when Dr. King was killed. I remember the interruption of television that night for the announcement. I remember hearing that he had children near my age. I asked my mama what his children would do for a daddy.
Sadly, we are reaching the point where most of our memories of these men are now the products of video and photographs.
I’m afraid that we are losing our touch with history. I’m also afraid that the next generation doesn’t care.
We still have 1.7 million living Americans who served in World War II. When we recognize veterans at public events, their feeble bodies allow fewer of them to stand. Their memories of their wartime service is sometimes foggy, at best. They are all now in their 80s and 90s.
My dad was a World War II soldier. He didn’t talk much about his wartime service. I don’t know if it was difficult for him to talk about, but he had little to say.
We fail to understand that it was this vibrant generation that came back from wartime and began shaping our communities for the future. They became business owners, community leaders and helped usher in an era of great access to education and health care.
The end of the war was also the catalyst for the change in civil rights. Young black men who had never ventured far from the rural hamlets where they were born were summoned by the draft board and sent off for service in places like Europe and the South Pacific. They saw what kind of opportunity was available in other parts of the country and wanted the same for their families at home.
Some of them had taken bullets for our freedom during the war and had earned the right to vote and to get a good education.
By the mid-1950s, the civil rights movement had begun in earnest and young leaders like Dr. King became the voice of those who sought change.
I wonder sometimes if today’s generation understands the kind of verbal and physical abuse that was unleased by those who fought against civil rights in support of the unfair racism that had been so prevalent in the South and elsewhere.
Sadly, I have seen young people, black and white, who cannot articulate what Dr. King accomplished in his efforts.
A couple of years ago, a rapper was killed on Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway in Atlanta. Hollowell was an African-American attorney who represented Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes when they sought admission to the University of Georgia. Someone suggested that Hollowell Parkway be renamed for the rapper.
We don’t know our history, we don’t recognize or remember historical figures and sadly, we have few people who care.
The further we get from the era of Dr. King and others, the closer we get to making it just another day to have a mattress sale at a department store.
Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear Sundays.