|"Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory of the Coming of the Lord..."|
My memories of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. are very vivid, even today. I was a young woman when he was assassinated and I remember it well. Driving through the streets of Chicago, it was shocking to see the National Guard, with rifles drawn, on every street corner of the city. Armored military tanks patrolled the streets of American cities, hoping to diffuse the riots that were feared on the heels of King's murder.
But I believe the nation was so paralyzed with grief that the riots never materialized. It is an amazing thing to witness the overwhelming sorrow that stops an entire nation as it collectively weeps for the senseless loss of a leader as admirable as Dr. King.
I am not black. But I had so often been transfixed watching news reports of the young, black, Baptist minister who single-handedly stood up to the wealthiest, most powerful nation in the world and challenged her to fulfill the promises she had made to all of her people, not just a privileged class.
I think the grief that we experienced as a nation when he was murdered was partly from a sense of loss of greatness. Who could watch this man and not know we were witnessing history in the making? Who could watch his courage in the face of immense danger and not know we were bearing witness to a prophet in our times? Who could listen to his words and not be convicted that we were a nation being called to repentance?
There was a sense of enormous grief mixed with a breaking sense of guilt that, although we hadn't pulled the trigger, all of us had blood on our hands. There was a realization, almost like watching a spoiled child throwing a tantrum when the parent demands obedience, that we, as a nation, had gone too far in refusing to bend to the call of God to mend our ways. We were witnessing the full fruit of our rebellion as a people; the tragic loss of a great world leader, a son of America, born, bred and murdered on our own soil, by one of our own, simply because of the color of his skin.
There was a collective silence that covered the country like a shroud as an entire nation watched his young widow and four young children bury their husband and father. But, I, like millions of other Americans, black and white, wept tears of grief, not just for this young widow, but also for the shame of our country that had let this happen.
In the face of this senseless tragedy, what could anyone say? I'm sorry was so completely inadequate,yet so deeply needed. As a nation, I think we woke up suddenly to the shame of our prejudices. Most of us knew the pretense that we were above it all was over. The reality of racial prejudice that ran so deep that it could justify the murder of a good man simply because of his color was laid naked for us all to see. Most of us who loved America were ashamed that this could happen in "the land of the free and the home of the brave." It was a moment of sober assessment of who we were as a people and who we wanted to be. Dr. King was speaking to us all from the grave. And we were finally beginning to listen...
I believe most Americans, not just black Americans, realize the gift that he was to us as a nation. He called us to remember who we are. His voice still echoes in my heart today. May we humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, repent of our sins as a people and ask God to heal our land. That would be a fitting memorial for this great American leader, prophet and man of God.