On Dr. King's birthday, we still need his message

January 14, 1996|By Carl O. Snowden

Tuesday and Saturday, there will be two major community events to celebrate the birthday of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Tuesday evening, Julian Bond, internationally renowned civil rights activist, will be the keynote speaker at the eighth annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Awards Dinner which begins at 6 p.m. at Buddy's Late Night, 30 Hudson St., Annapolis. Then, next Saturday at 8 a.m. at Anne Arundel Community College, hundreds will gather at a memorial breakfast which will feature an address by James Farmer, the former executive director of the Congress of Racial Equality.

These two occasions will bring literally hundreds of blacks, whites, Jews, Christians, Muslims, gays and community activists together. They will convene out of respect for Dr. King, the man and his message. It was once and still remains a powerful message.

Dr. King's vision of an America that would live up to its creeds even today continues to be the racial barometer by which we determine our progress or lack thereof in race relations.

Last year, we saw the racial divide grow. During the O.J. Simpson trial, Americans were polled: African-Americans generally favored acquittal; whites generally favored conviction.

During the Million Man March last October what was striking was the solidarity of African-American men. What was missing was ++ the rainbow. In 1963, Dr. King addressed a multi-racial audience of 250,000. In 1995, Minister Louis Farrakhan addressed an audience of more than a million black men.

Dr. King spoke of his dream of brotherhood; Minister Farrakhan asked America about her more "perfect union." What was defining about the Million Man March were the numbers. What was remembered about the 1963 march was the message.

Now, more than three decades later, America once again finds itself at a racial crossroads. The stakes are high, the consequences are great.

Very few people will remember the speech that President Bill Clinton delivered on race relations on the day of the Million Man March. Probably, with few exceptions, very few people remember President John F. Kennedy's reaction to Dr. King's speech. What is significant is that neither speech is remembered.

Disbelief over Denny's

Throughout our history, we have been on a strange and unending parallel, African-Americans being heard only during social upheavals and white America reacting after the fact. Malcolm X warned us that Dr. King's dream was becoming a nightmare. Every social indicator points to a grow- ing gap between Americans.

We desperately need leaders and leadership that will help to close the gap. Too often, discussions on race are reduced to name-calling and finger-pointing. The end result is that the gulf grows. During last year's debate over the Denny's restaurant controversy, even after the case was settled, there were those who refused to believe it was an issue of race.

As I have gotten older, I have developed an even greater appreciation of Dr. King's birthday. Students write about the "dream." Proclamations are made by various government officials, and still each year the gap grows.

In Annapolis on Clay Street, Dr. King's dream has been deferred. In Severn, South County, Severna Park, Odenton and Brooklyn, his dream has been deferred there, too.

Indeed, there are two different realities all occupying the same place at the same time. America is a much better nation because of Dr. King. Yet much remains to be done.

If we are truly to honor the legacy of Dr. King, all of us -- blacks, whites, Jews, Muslims, Christians, Americans must work harder to make his dream our reality.

This week, as you celebrate the birthday of Dr. King, remember his words, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

A Luta Continua, the struggle for justice and peace continues. Happy Birthday, Dr. King.

The writer is an Annapolis alderman.

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