MLK’s Dream Is Timeless
After a week of waiting, I finally got the chance to go see the highly acclaimed film Selma this weekend with my family. Without a doubt it lived up to its hype. This was the first time out of my 23 Martin Luther King Jr. weekends that I actually did something to recognize the power of the man and the impact that his movement has had on the country. Perhaps the most moving image of the movie was seeing King, portrayed by David Oyelowo, lead a group of men and women across the Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama River as they embarked on their trek toward Montgomery. As someone who has learned a fair share about the Civil Rights Movement from textbooks and lectures, the movie was still a grave reminder of this country’s painful history in the area of race relations.
The other powerful images in the movie were more fleeting. They were of actor John Lavelle who played Roy Reed “” a reporter for the Arkansas Gazette and later the New York Times. We first see Reed in a church attending a speech King is giving about the importance of giving blacks the vote. We later see him in a phone booth describing a clash between protestors and police with batons in the streets of Selma. Both times he appears simultaneously awestruck by the gravity of the events and yet determined to report a story that has not made its way north quite yet in 1965. Reed was one of many who put their lives in harm’s way during a time when filing a report from anywhere in the Jim Crow South would rival venturing into Syria or Afghanistan today, though perhaps that is an exaggeration.
I think it is particularly important to remember that Dr. King was more than simply a powerful figure who strived to achieve racial equality. He stood for bridging divides across all nationalities, races and classes. Without getting too political, I don’t think it would be considered a stretch to say that racism is still alive in 2015 as is inequality among various classes and ethnic groups. At the Noon Hour MLK Commemoration on Monday in Winston-Salem, keynote speaker Rev. Dr. Sir Walter L. Mack, Jr. repeatedly asked the question, “What would King say?” He pointed to both national and local examples of ways that these divides have persisted. I was particularly struck by his remark that all of the area hospitals are next to the interstate.
And I saw the debate over King’s legacy on display at a High Point City Council meeting on Jan. 5 when city officials could not agree on the simple task of naming a street after the leader, as more than 700 cities and towns across the United States have already done. This debate has extended more than 25 years, and it does not seem that there is any visible opposition to the idea of a street being named after him, yet some council members seem reluctant to move swiftly on something that uses almost no time or resources. One comment from newly elected councilwoman Cynthia Davis seemed out of place.
“For me, as an individual, not as a councilwoman, my comment from that podium at any meeting would be to not to do this thing,” she said. “Because I honor Dr. King by being a forerunner and doing the things that he began as he continued the things that the forerunners before him began.”
Although High Point is certainly not a city that embraces racism, its racial and economic disparities are striking. One need not look too closely to realize that the city’s wealthiest homeowners live on the outskirts while the downtown area remains a ghost town despite a university of more than 4,000 students located just down the road. The reality is that today there might not be any more Selmas, but there are other High Points across the nation. There are other places where the haves and the have-nots live in self-segregated ways . It is these places that Dr. King would most want to see a street named after him. !