Quick Takes: 50 Years Ago Today, and the Struggle Continues

A roundup of news that caught my eye today.

Fifty years ago today, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.

* Leonard Pitts writes that it’s time to kill the myth.

There is a myth some of us cherish, and it goes like this: There used to be racism in this country, a distant and benighted time about which it’s best not to talk and impolite to even recall. Then Martin Luther King organized a boycott, led some marches and gave a speech about a dream. And ever since, equality has reigned.

It’s a silly myth because it ignores the reams of evidence and towers of testimony proving that racism continues to stunt, blunt and take the lives of people of color.

It’s an offensive myth because it reduces King to an anodyne figure harmless enough to be embraced by conservatives who conveniently forget that while he was here, they stood against everything he stood for.

And it’s a dangerous myth because it allows the willfully, woefully gullible to believe we have won the battle for social justice when, in truth, we have yet to seriously engage it…

So those of us who believe in social justice — not as abstract possibility, but as critical necessity — must reclaim the lost memory of King and defend it with adamantine will from those would smother it in myth. Not just because it inspires, but also because it impels.

* In honor of this day, President Obama and Congressman John Lewis participated in a My Brother’s Keeper Alliance roundtable with students from Ron Brown College Preparatory High School.

* I was unaware of the fact that John Lewis was with Robert F. Kennedy when Dr. King was assassinated. RFK’s words in Indianapolis that night not only kept the peace in that city while riots overwhelmed so many others, they are incredibly timely today.

For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and distrust at the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I can only say that I feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man. But we have to make an effort in the United States, we have to make an effort to understand, to go beyond these rather difficult times.

My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He wrote: “In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black.

So I shall ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King, that’s true, but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love–a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke.

We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times; we’ve had difficult times in the past; we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; it is not the end of disorder.

But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings who abide in our land.

Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.

Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .