A new statue of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was dedicated on the Washington Mall this week. It got me thinking about the civil rights struggle. Sixty years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr., led freedom marchers one week and the Ku Klux Klan burned crosses the next. It seemed like our nation was going to be torn apart.
But it wasn’t. Instead historians found that the common man and common woman were being converted. In his book, There Goes My Everything, Jason Sokol focuses first on the white southerners who opposed integration and voter registration, whose names we know all too well—Lester Maddox, George Wallace, Bull Connor, Sheriff Clark. But he also gives voice to the confusion, mixed feelings and doubts of many whose names we don’t know. And many of them changed their minds.
One of Sokol’s examples is a New Orleans woman, the mother of nine. She supported segregation, but defied the boycott of a newly integrated school because she couldn’t bear the thought of her four grade school children at home with her, making noise and getting into trouble. After weeks of abuse from fellow whites, this woman said she didn’t feel any freer than the blacks and from then on fought on their side. The dire threats that the world would end if the races mixed never did materialize.
So what about now? What can we salvage from our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan? What will help a neighborhood whose murder rate goes up and up? How can we learn from new immigrants rather than fear them?
The edge where things seem to be breaking down may be the edge where new growth can come. What will happen if each of us tries to prune away some old, dead ideas or habits of thinking and speaking? Poke around a little bit in the spot. What signs of life are showing? What looks like it might just work?
What do you think? Let me know in the comments section below and share this with your friends.