Born 15 Jan 1929
Yesterday was Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday.
Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. waves to participants in the Civil Rights Movement’s March on Washington from the Lincoln Memorial. It was from this spot that he delivered his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech on August 28, 1963.
(Photo: Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS)
He was murdered 4 April 1968 but his words have lived on to inspire many, many people throughout the decades since his death. I was 13 years old when he died and can still remember the feelings of outrage that I felt. I am white, live in the UK and my knowledge of the civil rights movement came primarily from newspapers and the TV. Yet even at that young age I was aware of the inequalities that existed in the world and felt a burning desire to do something about it.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Letter from Birmingham City Jail April 16 1963
The injustices that happened to me as a working class female don’t in any way compare with those experienced by black people but emotionally they enable me to empathise, which as a writer is something I need to be able to do.Writers of crime fiction don’t need to have killed someone to be able to identify with the emotions that can lead to the crimes they write about, they just have to project their imaginations that bit further. I was able to project my imagination into the horror of living under Macarthy and the KKK, segregation, racial abuse and discrimination. To the point where I hated. Yet hate is destructive and breeds its own kind of intolerance and prejudice.
This extract, taken from An Experiment in Love written ten years before his assassination, shows how much King lived his Christian beliefs:
“Nonviolent resistance … avoids not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. The nonviolent resister not only refuses to shoot his opponent but he also refuses to hate him. At the center of nonviolence stands the principle of love. The nonviolent resister would contend that in the struggle for human dignity, the oppressed people of the world must not succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter or indulging in hate campaigns. To retaliate in kind would do nothing but intensify the existence of hate in the universe. Along the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate. This can only be done by projecting the ethic of love to the center of our lives.” A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. (public library)
This week Donald Trump assumes his position as President of the United States after a divisive, and what I see as regressive, campaign. He has pledged to bring people together, to heal rifts, but his behaviour so far as President Elect has not been encouraging. I hope the USA are not drifting back to the days of White Supremacy and racial/religious intolerance. So many people, like King, have given their lives for a peaceful, equitable society. Let us hope that their legacies are not violated.
Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees…from Strange Fruit by Billie Holliday