Why Martin Luther King's Murder Isn't Yet History

It's an anniversary honored better by self-examination, this half-century since the murder of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Less parades and eulogies, more penance and reckoning, that's what's more appropriate.Although it's been 50 years since King's murder, it isn't yet history. The struggle, the violence, our moral adolescence are all in substance as they were in 1968. What killed King still kills, and so our attempts to memorialize and forget, our attempts to re-narrate our racism and injustice are not just bad history but also bad morals. Five decades on, the dream is still deferred, and to quote James Baldwin, the battle "scarcely begun."This anniversary serves instead as a moral summons, a reminder that if we were there, if we had stood closer to the fire of King's words, many of us would likely have smothered the flame. Little is more obscure and self-aggrandizing than the memorialized past, the tendency to honor as heroes those once hated.It is relevant to state that I'm a white Catholic priest serving a largely affluent community, diverse certainly, but still riddled with those same pathologies and prejudices and inequalities King preached against, and which we deliberately forget whenever we honor him. If King were to preach in my church today, like so many others, it would likely be a hard sermon to hear.It's also why the 50th anniversary of King's death evokes for me another, and that's the 55th anniversary of the Letter from a Birmingham Jail, written by King in April, 1963. If we're to honor the man killed in Memphis, we should begin in Birmingham and with words written by a black man wrongly incarcerated. Every American, from students to would-be citizens, should read the letter. One of our nation's most hallowed documents, it's certainly the most truthful.  Continue reading...

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