There is something of a sad, melancholy irony in the fact that as we celebrate the life of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. this weekend, the national park that includes his birthplace would be closed as part of the federal government shutdown were it not for the generosity of some private funding made available by Delta.
As communities across the country prepare to celebrate King’s birth with a holiday Monday, it is hard to believe that it has been more than 50 years since his assassination.
For those born since his death in 1968, King has been a piece of modern American history, a historical leader studied in the classroom, through books and personal writings, documentaries and recorded speeches.
For those of an older generation, he remains the foremost symbol of the civil rights struggles that were so much a part of the nation’s fabric in the 1960s and ‘70s, someone whose legacy continues to shape our social structure today.
On the one hand, there is reason to rejoice in how far we have come in the struggle for equality for all races; on the other, it is disheartening to realize how far we still have to go.
Today’s younger generation has no memory of a time when social segregation was the norm, especially in the South; when “separate but equal,” was a ruling philosophy; when blacks were thought to be inferior to whites, and were expected to accept that as their plight in life.
We have come so far from the most blatant evils of the past.
But we still have many miles to go. We may no longer have public water fountains designated for use by certain skin tones, but there is still much racial hatred and bigotry, both outright and subtle, in our society. There are still civil rights battles to be fought, attitudes to change.
A full day of events here in Gainesville Monday will serve as a reminder of the significance of King in American history. There will be a speech at St. John Baptist Church, a peace march through Gainesville, a youth rally and finally a community discussion on civil rights.
Each portion of the day’s events seems particularly appropriate in recognizing the King legacy.
The speech at St. John serves as reminder that King was a man of God, a minister who brought a spiritual perspective to the fight for civil rights, advocating peaceful protests rather than violent confrontation.
The march through town reminds of the dozens of civil rights marches led by King, who consistently used peaceful marches and demonstrations as a means to bring attention to the battle against social injustices.
The youth rally gives promise for the future, when there is hope that eventually, one day, there may truly be a harmonious social order in which race is no longer a factor.
And the willingness to sit down in a public forum and discuss the issue of civil rights in a peaceful manner is reflective of the lessons taught by King himself.
It is perhaps naïve to believe we will ever live in a truly colorblind world, but with each generation we seem a little closer to the goal.
In fact, as we reported earlier this week, young people are taking a greater role in the celebrations and the continuing of King’s legacy, actions that are heartening for those who grew up during segregation.
As Irene Lipscomb, a member of local civil rights organization Newtown Florist Club observed, the young people “are the future. The more involved they get, the more they understand the purpose.”
Meaning more people will hear — and understand — King’s message.
Perhaps, one day, everyone will.
Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday events in Gainesville
- Observance events begin at 10 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 21, with a speech by the Rev. Robert S. King (of St. Paul United Methodist Church on Summit Street) at St. John Baptist Church, 757 EE Butler Parkway in Gainesville
- March from St. John through downtown Gainesville and ending at Fair Street Elementary School will begin at 1 p.m.
- Youth rally at Fair Street will begin at 2 p.m. featuring the Johnson High School marching band.
- Day’s events conclude with a community discussion on civil rights and voter suppression at 3 p.m. at the school.