Good. All the noise has settled down. The crowds are gone and the parades have ended. The “I Have a Dream” re-enactments are over and we’re getting back to Life as usual.
Let’s not let it be too much of the usual. Let’s take some time to reflect and then push off into purposeful inroads for making this year one that marks bolder efforts to kill the forces that suppress. Let’s consider two aspects of what became Affirmative Action in the United States. Let us reflect on why Dr. King took some of the steps that he did. It’s important to remember the circumstances of the day that brought a nation into agreement that things must change. Equally important is giving recognition to the major (and even minor) contributions the Black race of America has made throughout the centuries and history of the making of this country.
As a Southern Baptist preacher, King was raised to have the humility typical of the Negro race. But his education showed him another side of life that was different from subservience. His delving into history and culture made him aware of Martin Luther (from whom he and his father were led to change their family name) and adopt the philosophy of peaceful resistance.
Where at first blush, the traditional Negro spirituals conditioned the people to acquiesce to the insults and harm as they passively waited for deliverance to come at someone else’s hands, King began to teach that change would only come by taking the reigns of the Horse of Deliverance. That horse had to be led quietly and determinedly lest the momentum of the effort be suppressed. So King led the peaceful marches. They let no stones, no feral dogs, no fire hose sprays turn them from their mission. They let no one turn them around from their mission to find civil Freedom, Oh, Freedom.
Even at the threat of death and mob riots, teens (surrounded by National Guardsmen) attended school at Little Rock High School and desegregated the halls, classrooms, and campus. We marched to Washington and demanded suffrage and equal civil rights in word and deed, not just on paper. There were sit-ins at diners and coffee counters as the would-be patrons were assaulted with various types of food and beverage poured over their heads and bodies.
These insults were televised on national news coverage and in print. In Southern towns and cities, word spreads quickly. On hearing of the events, others of the community joined in the quest for equal service and it happened. The economic pressures of no revenue while attempting to maintain supplies and stock became the straw that broke the dam.
Like their cousins of another age (Jewish slaves of Egypt), Black Americans strove against the many obstacles to suppress and negate what could have been contributions to the wealth of a nation. In those days, it took a leader with a vision to keep people focused on not only reaching the goal but clinging to the prize lest it be wrested away. By symbolic acts, they were admonished to press on for rights and freedoms by not acquiescing and passively waiting for someone else to carry the banner of agitating for their citizenship rights. Instead, under King’s leadership, they were encouraged to press on and to Keep [their] Eyes on the Prize.