Today we remember how in 1963 almost 200,000 people participated in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. We remember Dr. King’s famous speech, “I have a Dream.”
Today I remember the context of this moment. I see how King is celebrated today but was despised by most White people then. I see how his protests are lauded today as peaceful and bold, but lauded as riotous, unpatriotic, and unchristian back then. I see how it’s all misremembered.
I see how Dr. King was labeled a communist, despite his belief that, “Communism and Christianity are fundamentally incompatible” (King, Strength to Love, 94). I see how a 17,000 page report by the FBI branded him, “The most dangerous man in America.” I see how those who supported civil rights were suspected as communist, too. I see how at the time of his assassination polls showed that 75% of Americans disproved of his work.
I see how what King wrote, preached, and performed didn’t matter. I see how back then, like now, the truth doesn’t matter. I see how back then, like now, political posturing by those who disapprove matters more. I see how back then, like now, black lives didn’t matter. I see how back then, like now, White supremacy is our seductive companion. I see how back then, like now, White people would never admit it to be true. I see how back then, like now, this is one way the reign of sin and death works in a nation.
A few years from now my son will see also. He’ll look back at the files I’m making for him—FB posts, memes, articles, blogs—and will remember that this is how White supremacy works. In the future we’ll look back at history and celebrate the Black prophets and those who support them. In the future we’ll rewrite the stories of the past so that when racial injustice rises again to the surface, the opposition from White society will rise with it. My son will look back and remember that White society loves Black prophets, but only when they are dead.
It’s odd that many White people celebrating King are those who oppose or belittle what’s happening today. It’s troubling that there’s such a disconnect with civil rights history that some say, “But today is different. The protests and riots are different. It’s unchristian…”
No, it’s the same story with different characters. But we are all entitled to our own opinion. Thankfully facts are stubborn things.
Most tragic of all, just over two weeks after this day in 1963 White supremacists murdered four Black girls in the 16th St. Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham.