Tuesday, January 17, 2006

To Remember

We were on our way to lunch last Thursday after I picked up Eli 4.5 from pre-school.

"Daddy, do you know the man who was killed?" he asked quietly. It was an unnerving question to hear from someone whose favorite food is a lollipop.

"What? Who got killed?"

"A man," he said. "He got shot."

"Who told you this?"

"My teacher. A bad man didn't like him so he shot him and he died."

"I'm sorry, little man," I said. "I haven't read anything about that." I had no idea what he was talking about and his voice was so solemn that it was very unsettling.

"Miss Marcie said that the bad man didn't want black kids and white kids to go to school together," Eli said. And at that moment, I realized that my son was having the first socially conscious moment of his life.

"You're talking about Martin Luther King, little man," I said.

"That's right! Martin Luber King," he said.

"He was a hero and we have a special day on Monday to honor him, I said.

"Why was he a hero?" Eli asked.

"Because our country was was doing some very bad things and he wanted to stop them. And instead of trying to stop them by being violent and fighting, he peacefully protested and got other people to join him. And so many people joined him that he made our country change."

"I would be very sad if I couldn't go to school with Ali and Arjun D.," Eli said.

"I know," I said. "And you won't ever have to worry about that."

I don't mention being proud of Eli very often because I don't want to sound like an overbearing parent. I was very proud of him this time, though, because he was able to treat a serious subject with respect, and he wanted to understand what had happened.

It made me sad yesterday to see what happened on Martin Luther King Day in this country. Nothing, basically. MSNBC.com had pushed the story off its "most important story" spot by 11:00 a.m. in favor of some stupid story about credit. Most other sites barely mentioned it.

It consistently stuns me that most people think the civil rights movement is "completed." They consider it finished work. It astonishes me that anyone would think that over a century of slavery along with six decades of severe, institutionalized racism (via the Jim Crow laws passed after a series of heinous Supreme Court decisions culminating in Plessy vs. Ferguson in 1896) could be unwound in forty years, or even a hundred. In this country, based on its history, the civil rights movement will never be "completed." It will never be finished. Not just for black people, but for everyone.

If you've never read the text of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream Speech," which is one of the most singularly beautiful and moving speeches ever written, here's a link:

I don't think there's anything more inspiring to me than a man who can change the world without picking up a gun.

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