I used to live in Washington DC, but that was a decade ago, so I didn’t see the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial until last Saturday. I was in DC briefly for a conference, and I didn’t want to leave without visiting that site. I am not a big fan of statues in general, but of course this is MLK we’re talking about.
I awoke that day with a snapshot of myself standing next to MLK already composed in my mind. That photo did not become a reality, because the memorial is tall, and I am short! However, envisioning that scene prompted me to ask a tough question. It’s easy to stand by a sculpture of a martyred hero from 50 years ago. But would I have ‘stood by’ MLK during the troubled 1960s, while he was still alive?
My gut says ‘yes,’ that I would have supported MLK actively and courageously, and I want to believe that it’s true. After all, I am passionate about justice and I have been known to do some ‘out of the box’ things. However the 60s were a different era, when the dangers of taking a stand were a lot less subtle than they are today.
It’s disturbingly unlikely that I as a white person would have paid with my life…but there certainly would have been a cost. If I were alive in the 60s my own thinking would be influenced by all the biases and limitations of the day. Among other obstacles, how many of the white civil rights activists were female?
So, would I have stood by MLK during the 1960s? My gut says yes, but I’ll never know for sure. What I can do is look for the people who are making a difference in 2013, and stand by them now.
Note: To any readers who wonder why this blog post is not about First Nations history…I’ll explain that in an upcoming post. I promise!