We Need Martin Luther King Now
King's message of love and forgiveness is especially relevant today.
Despite all the activity around Martin Luther King Day, every year King's real message becomes more obscured. For most Americans he has been reduced to posters and postage stamps, an excuse for a long weekend. But, in these days of heightened fear, acute injustice, and daily warmongering, King's example of nonviolent resistance, of overcoming enemies with love, is more relevant than ever. In fact, it is the only solution to the problems facing us, both at home and abroad.
In spring 1965 I marched with King in Marion, Alabama, and experienced first-hand his deep love and humility in the face of injustice.
I heard about the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson, a young man shot eight days earlier when police broke up a rally at a church in Marion. Bystanders later described a scene of utter chaos: White onlookers smashed cameras and shot out streetlights, while police officers brutally attacked black men and women, some of whom were kneeling and praying on the steps of their church.
Jimmie's crime was to tackle a state trooper who was mercilessly beating his mother. His punishment: to be shot in the stomach and clubbed over the head until almost dead. Denied admission at the local hospital, he was taken to Selma, where he was able to tell his story to reporters. He died several days later.
Deeply shaken, we attended a memorial service in Marion. Lining the veranda of the county court house across the street stood a long row of state troopers, hands on their nightsticks, looking straight at us--the same men who had attacked Marion's blacks only days before. As we left the service for the burial, we passed first them, and then a crowd of hecklers. The police, armed with binoculars and cameras as well as guns, scanned and photographed each one of us; the hecklers followed us with insults and jeers.
At the cemetery, King spoke about forgiveness and love. He pleaded with his people to pray for the police, to forgive the murderer, and to forgive those who were persecuting them. Then we held hands and sang, "We shall overcome." If there was ever cause for hatred or vengeance, it was here. But none was to be felt, not even from Jimmie's parents.