Martin Luther King, Jr., was 39 when he was assassinated. That fact shocked me when I was reminded Monday night. I knew he was young, but I might have said 49 or 59. That’s young, too.
But Dr. King was 39, and he had done so much, by April 3, 1968, when, not feeling well and speaking without notes, he delivered what would be his final speech, in Memphis, when he said he had been to the mountaintop and he was not afraid. He was killed the next day.
Dr. King could be alive today, like John Lewis, the national treasure, still on the front line, about to turn 78, or he could have matched Harriet Tubman, born in slavery, date unknown, but around 90 when she passed.
I was reminded of this Monday night, on what would have been Dr. King’s 89th birthday. I did not go golfing but then again I did not perform any symbolic service on the national holiday, the way George W. Bush and Barack Obama did as president.
I just hunkered down inside and at 9 PM I made a point to listen to the annual King celebration from Terrance McKnight on WQXR-FM.
McKnight is a civic asset here in New York – beautiful speaking voice and matching knowledge, reminds me of where-have-you-gone, No. 44. McKnight is a Morehouse grad, like Spike Lee, like the Olympian Edwin Moses, like Donn Clendenon, the 1969 Miracle Met, who was mentored by a Morehouse grad – why didn’t I know this? -- Martin Luther King, Jr.
Every year McKnight stresses the influence of music on Dr. King and his wife Coretta Scott King, who trained to be another Marian Anderson. Dr. King played classical music in his car as he drove north to grad school at Boston University.
McKnight played some Mahalia Jackson and he played some Sam Cooke and he played some classical, too. He did not play Dion DiMucci, but I found myself thinking of the singer from the Belmont section of the Bronx who wrote “Abraham, Martin and John,” which ends with a coda to Robert F. Kennedy.
One key line, you know it, goes: “The good they die young.”
McKnight told the story of the premiere of “Gone With the Wind” in Atlanta and how Hattie McDaniel and Butterfly McQueen were excluded, and how the Ebenezer Baptist Church choir sang, directed by Alberta King, wife of the pastor, mother of 6-year-old Martin, Jr.
Listen for yourself: https://www.wqxr.org/story/11702-beautiful-symphony-brotherhood-musical-journey-life-martin-luther-king-jr
Toward the end of the chronological journey McKnight noted that Dr. King was 39 when he gave his extemporaneous speech in Memphis. Thirty-nine.
The speech ended:
“I'm not worried about anything.
“I'm not fearing any man!
“Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”
Somebody on WINS news radio asked people on Monday what Dr. King would be doing if he were alive today. One woman said, "He'd stand up to them, the way he stood up to Bull Connors" -- a reference to the commissioner of public safety in Birmingham, who unleashed the dogs, tolerated the bombers.
Dr. King studied Gandhi. Stood up to Bull Connor. The good they die young.
The local NPR station in western MA celebrated MLK day with reflections by people who knew him. One person talked about how Dr. King always stayed calm and ignored physical pain and personal insults.
1/17/2018 08:34:43 am
Alan, thanks, I know you were raving about the museum after visiting. Haven't been to DC in a while, and need to. Visited the museum in Birmingham a decade or so ago. The most gripping part was the statues of the dogs in the park across the way. Went to Easter service at the 16th St. Baptist Church, great experience. We all need to be reinforced...and to say, "Never again." GV
1/17/2018 11:19:12 am
When my parents were having marital difficulties in the mid-1950s, they would send me and my brother down to spend the summers with my uncle/aunt/cousins in Birmingham. I'm still haunted by these images from more than 60 years ago: the Birmingham Zoo with a white line drawn down the middle of the walking path to separate whites from blacks; the "colored" bleachers in dead centerfield at Rickwood Stadium, home of the Barons; the middle-aged black men addressed as "boys" who carried your groceries out to the car or carried your tray at the cafeteria; the jolly deli owner telling my uncle that his sign "Prices may change without notice," meant that no one could say he refused to serve blacks, it's just that when they came in the price of a roast beef sandwich just went up to $35.00. I was an appalled 8-year old. I remain appalled at the memories.
1/17/2018 04:42:05 pm
Roy, it was ugly, and the strain of infection stayed in the body politic -- immune to antibiotics or shame.
1/18/2018 05:09:05 am
What if Martin Luther King, Jr., were alive today? He would not be tweeting.
1/19/2018 01:22:38 pm
george....another good piece.
1/19/2018 02:36:32 pm
Bruce, thanks. I know where I was -- driving north from spring training with the wife of a friend a MLB player, she was too pregnant to fly so I drove their car. Another player and his young family in a separate car. We heard the news on the car radio in afternoon. Later the caravan stopped at a Holiday Inn near Brunswick, GA. My friend's wife and little son were (are) African-American. Clerks in the motel saw this group arrive and ask for three rooms...and thought we were freedom riders or something, and bustled to help us.What with all the demonstrations by then, they were SO polite. It would have been funny, if the event had not been so horrible. Some things you remember. best, GV
1/19/2018 05:01:27 pm
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“I don’t think people understand how Covid affects older Americans,” Mr. Caretti said with frustration. “In 2020, there was this all-in-this-together vibe, and it’s been annihilated. People just need to care about other people, man. That’s my soapbox.”
---Vic Caretti, 47, whose father recently died of Covid at 85.
---From an article by Paula Span, who covers old age for the NYT, which currently has 2646 comments, the majority criticizing the American public – and public officials – for acting as if the pandemic is “over.”
Classic wishful thinking, at a lethal level.