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Marchin’ vs. Shufflin’…

On one occasion I was invited to speak to an assembly at the prison chapel on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  Apparently, I was the only prisoner in a camp of over 800 souls who had actually marched with Dr. King.

Almost all of the campers present were black.  The majority had not been born when Dr. King was assassinated (1968).  As Dr. King would say, “Longevity has its uses…”

I’d like to be able to write that that my short speech included how “acting black” is one of the greatest tricks perpetrated on the African-American.

Despite the intervention of perceptive black leadership, many inmates continue to employ the “nigger” and “monkey ass” vernacular incessantly.

It’s difficult to even get to lunchtime without hearing the epithets–both in casual conversation and as invective–constantly.  Jim Crow is quite alive and well even in the black culture.

However, it wasn’t the proper venue for such a talk, nor was I the best witness.  This continues as a raging dispute in both society and prison.  Nevertheless, I didn’t squander my time and place…

What I did speak to was how things used to be well within the lifetimes of many of us.  And if one scratches the surface, much of it is still there.  Of how easy it is to take much for granted.

Many didn’t just wait for change, despite how racists and conservative rascals believed and counseled.  It took—it always takes—belief, hope, struggle and sacrifice, even our lives, to effect progressive change.

Of course, there is another moral equation in operation here.  Conservative personalities tend to believe in a “just world” philosophy.  Since the world is essentially a just place in their view, people who are in an unjust position—however they got there—are to blame for their own condition.  “They are getting what they deserve.”

I explained to the assembly, “Believe it…we’ll never know how many were beaten, imprisoned, lynched, murdered, and simply disappeared.”

Henry David Thoreau—a famous philosopher that Dr. King had studied, along with his treatise on Civil Disobedience—was once imprisoned for refusal to pay a poll tax.  His good friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson, another famous personality, asked, “Henry, what are you doing in there?”

     Thoreau replied, “Waldo, the question is what are you doing out there?”

I also observed that Dr. King, like other great figures, was never afraid to stand alone when the struggle for Justice & Reconciliation called for it.  He marched against the war in Vietnam in the spring of 1967 despite his entire leadership being opposed.

Another great man, Abraham Lincoln, when he first proposed the Emancipation Proclamation calling for the freeing of the slaves, had the unanimous opposition of his own cabinet.  That’s the definition of a leader.

I finished with an admonition of not to wonder what others have done for you (an insulting question, borne from ignorance, I had thrown in my face often).  “It’s your turn to answer that question for yourselves, and for the next generation.  That’s the challenge we’ve all faced.  Many have stepped up to it.”

Never believe that history can stand still.  We advance or we will surely lose even what we have.  Count on it.

               Dr. Publico

Category: JimCrow, KingDrMartinL
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