How Will You Celebrate The King Holiday?
They are going to fix a quote on the new memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The one to which Maya Angelou particularly took umbrage. The correct quote from the Saint of the Sixties is, “Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.” The quote on the memorial is, “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.” King did the “drum major instinct” speech some months before April 4, as if he knew he was drawing closer to his date with death. All the previous ones where he spoke of death, and what he would like to have at his funeral were dress rehearsals.
I still don’t like the King Memorial in Washington. To me, it does not resemble him at all. King was a little man who had a lot of “looks” in photos over his life, but he didn’t look at all like this thing. King, as he grew older, always had a well-fed look, nurtured by food on the road, potlucks, rubber chicken fundraisers and restaurant dinners, and his buttoned-up collars tended to emphasize his double chin, but his face was actually longer.
The statue also makes me think of the Sphinx in Egypt, with King emerging from the slanted rock like the Sphinx’s weathered and blasted face emerging from its shelf-like headpiece, and from the sand. Questions, questions. It makes me wonder whether we are getting the real King rather than a made-up one enclosed in a commercialized legend. The real King was a complicated guy, and I know that there were some days he wished that he hadn’t started anything, but I do think that he would not have approved of this statue. And not just on aesthetic grounds. I could see him insisting on something way more substantive and lasting, and essentially formless. Like the shape of the human spirit.
That’s why I show the tomb upwind where he and Coretta repose. This is his true memorial. But people will insist on certain folks being larger than life when they were, basically, just like them.
When the Rev. Raphael G. Warnock steps up to the pulpit on Sunday, he’ll face a crowd of thousands in a worship service that marks no religious holiday and is rarely recognized outside the United States, but rivals Christmas and Easter as one of his congregation’s biggest days of the year.
Martin Luther King Jr. Sunday has become a worship day across denominations in American churches, but at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King honed his oratory and found his spiritual fervor, the day takes on additional importance.
As he fields guests and television cameras, Warnock will honor the past and thrust his congregation, which sits down the street from the site of King’s first home and the original Ebenezer building where he preached, into the struggles of the present.
“We don’t want to just place King in biblical or historical perspective, but we want to give voice to the values he trumpeted in relationship to the issues facing us today,” said Warnock, who has been the senior pastor for six years. “We are not a museum.”
The fight for human rights should never be consigned to a museum. Or to one day of observance. Or relegated as just another shopping day. Any day is a day for reflection as well as summoning courage and purpose for self and for others, and taking action.
Me, I am going to an afternoon celebration at the Overture here in Madison that will feature the Reverend C.T. Vivian, an aging and but eloquent speaker in Albany during the civil rights era. In my estimation, he ranks with the octogenarian Reverend Joseph Lowery in speaking truth to power. And I will listen, remember, and later, act.
Remember that Martin King became less of a single-issue leader, than a leader embracing all struggles, particularly on behalf of the poor with the Poor People’s Campaign, and for the right for black garbage collectors to unionize in Memphis. Let me repeat that. For black people to unionize to redress grievances against the city of Memphis. To unionize.
Got that, Wisconsin? Got that, America?
These are issues that still have relevance today because the work is still not over.
- Obamas Observe Legacy of MLK (abcnews.go.com)
- Martin Luther King Jr. archives: Reagan makes Martin Luther King Day official (thegrio.com)
- 2012 Martin Luther King Google Doodle (seroundtable.com)
- Not Set In Stone: Martin Luther King Memorial Statue Inscription to Change Within 30 Days (clutchmagonline.com)