Make the King holiday count
22nd January 2013 · 0 Comments
By Edmund W. Lewis
How do you plan to spend the Martin Luther King Jr. National Holiday?
Reading a good book that you haven’t been able to find the time to read? Taking your kids to the mall or to the movies? Catching one of the “King Day” blockbuster sales at a furniture store or car dealership? Taking your children or grandchildren to the library or a bookstore in search of books about the Black experience? Helping an elderly loved one or neighbor to run errands or complete some other task? Organizing a community service project in your neighborhood? Visiting Washington, D.C. for President Barack Obama’s second inauguration? Checking out the Cornel West lecture at Dillard University? Attending one of the city’s many MLK Jr. commemorative programs?
While there is no one right way to spend the holiday, most of those with knowledge of the history of struggle that preceded the MLK National Holiday will tell you that it represents the culmination of a long, protracted struggle for freedom, justice and equality that began when Africans first arrived at Jamestown, Virginia as indentured servants in 1619 and continues to this very day.
The Black experience in America encompasses the Middle Passage, the auction block and a wide-ranging spectrum of events and developments that include but are not limited to the Amistad revolt, the Harper’s Ferry uprising, the creation and growth of the Underground Railroad, the Black Codes, the 1811 slave revolt, the origin of Congo Square, the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation (which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year), the creation of jazz, the Tuskegee Experiment, Plessy v. Ferguson, the establishment of the NAACP, the origin of The North Star, the destruction of Black Wall Street and Rosewood, the case of the Scottsboro Boys. Brown v. The Board of Education, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Freedom Rides, the Historic March on Washington, the exportation of Marcus Garvey, the assassination of Malcolm X, the rise of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, the military exploits of the Tuskegee Airmen, the establishment of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, the Voting Rights Act, the creation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the MOVE bombing, the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Monument on the Washington, D.C. Mall, the Million Man March, Million Woman March and the election and re-election of the nation’s first Black president.
All of these developments played a critical role in shaping who we are as a people today and where we stand on the road to achieving self-determination.
As the descendants of a proud, mighty people who refused to die after they were dragged to these shores and treated like cattle, we have a responsibility to learn the stories of those who came before us and to pass on those stories to the young and those yet to come.
As has often been said, from those to who much has been given, much is expected. While some may view the descendants of enslaved Africans in America as “the wretched of the earth,” we have a rich, ennobling legacy as the progeny of the first people on the planet who sprang from the cradle of humanity to take their rightful place as children of the Most High.
As we pause to remember Martin Luther King Jr., let us also remember all of the nameless, faceless ancestors whose sacrifices, resilience and heroic actions made our existence and survival possible. By honoring King, who has joined them in the village of the ancestors, we honor their memory and the invaluable contributions they made.
While our ancestors were robbed of their names and languages and snatched out of history by their oppressors, they carried across the Atlantic Ocean with them an unrelenting thirst for freedom, courage, a recognition that the Creator has the final say in all that transpires on the planet and an unshakeable faith that things will be better “by and by.”
On MLK Day, let us remember all of the freedom fighters who gave us shining examples of Black manhood and womanhood, including Malcolm X, Steve Biko, Martin Delaney, Bishop Henry McNeal Turner, Sojourner Truth, Queen Mother Moore, Harriet Tubman, Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner, Charles Deslondes, Kwame Toure, Huey P, Newton, Marcus Garvey, Dr. John Henrik Clarke and A. Phillip Randolph,
Let us invoke their spirits of freedom, courage, wisdom and strength as we recommit ourselves to fighting racism, sexism, classism, ageism, nihilism, materialism, nepotism and a host of other isms that threaten our very existence. Let us harness their energy and determination as we wage battle with poverty, violence, hunger, hopelessness, homelessness, illiteracy, police brutality, discrimination and racial injustice.
We don’t have a lot of time to play around. We need to establish independent Black institutions capable of meeting the needs of Black people in the U.S. We need to lending financial support and credibility to Black educational institutions and religious institutions that have not demonstrated a commitment to empowering, uplifting and liberating communities of color. We need courageous, visionary leaders who are African-centered and understand that the Creator is the source and aim of all life
We need to remember that over the course of this nation’s tumultuous history, all we have had is us. And for the most part, that has been enough. Finally, we need to remember that I am because we are.
So I ask you again: How are you planning to celebrate the Martin Luther King Jr. National Holiday?
This article was originally published in the January 21, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper