ND celebrates MLK, Jr. and his mission
Mary Anne Lewis
"We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice."
In 1929, Mrs. Martin Luther King, Sr. gave birth to Martin Luther King, Jr.
Just 34 years later, King presented his dream of desegregation in the most famous civil rights speech America has known.
King grew up in a world where people lived different lives based on the color of their skin. A black person could not sit next to a white person on a bus. A black person could not drink water from the same fountain as a white person. A black person did not have the same career opportunities as a white person.
But King dared to dream differently. He dreamed of a world in which boys and girls of any color could attend school together and learn from one another. His vision was one of richness, in which differences were embraced and appreciated.
"Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children."
Martin Luther King Day was last Monday. The day celebrated not only King's accomplishments, but also his ideals. As the Notre Dame celebrates the holiday this week, it is important that each member of the Notre Dame community personally captures King's spirit.
If he were here today, if he walked on campus, walked past the golden dome, walked past the dorms and walked into the mind of a typical Notre Dame student, what kind of prejudices would he find there? Perhaps the greatest lesson a person can learn from King is the lesson of self-examination.
King's message was one of desegregation. That message still applies today, less for such obvious things as the color of a person's skin, and more for subtler things such as religion, socioeconomic status or sexual preference.
One Notre Dame student, who wishes to remain anonymous said: "I think that there are many open-minded students on this campus, but I still don't think that we believe in everything that MLK was fighting for."
When asked if King would be happy with what he were to see on this campus, junior Timothy Brick said, "On this campus? Compared to his day, yes. On the other hand, compared to other colleges, no. The `normal' and `liberal' portions of the world are really very tolerant. It's only the really, really conservative and/or psycho factions of the country that might frighten him."
Freshman Christine Carey said, "I think that the University tries to put up a false face of tolerance. It is, however, blatantly obvious how prejudiced the University and many of its students are toward certain types of people."
George Coppinger, a junior, added, "I can't imagine he'd be terribly pleased. You see most groups around campus and they're segregated. Further, our campus is not in general very diverse or open-minded. Take the subject of homosexuality for example."
"Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed."
From his youth onward, King showed the gifts of passion and discipline. In 1948, at the age of 19, King graduated from Moorehouse College without ever having graduated from high school. Five years later, he married Coretta Scott in Marion, Ala. King went on to receive his Ph.D. from Boston University in 1955. During the same year, Rosa Parks was arrested because she refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man.
Because King dared to think differently, because he devoted his life to his vision, he faced terrorism. Bombs were thrown onto his porch. Shots were fired. Names were called. But King continued.
In 1958, Harper and Row published King's book "Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story." Soon afterward, King was stabbed in the chest during a book signing in Harlem. Still, he continued. The Freedom Riders rode and the marchers marched, the protesters protested and the police arrested.
In 1963, King wrote his famous "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" and the vision took hold. In the same year, the Supreme Court ruled Birmingham's segregation laws unconstitutional, and King delivered his "I have a dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. King went on to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway, the following year. King's speech touched millions throughout the nation.
"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: we hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal.
I have a dream, that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream, that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream, that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today!"
This speech defined the moral basis that would serve as the foundation of the civil rights movement. Before his death, Kennedy had created the Civil Rights Bill. Finally, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 took hold of segregation and tossed it aside by prohibiting racial discrimination in public places, and by calling for equal opportunity in employment and education for African Americans.
In 1965, Congress passed another bill entitled the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This bill allowed African-Americans to vote in all public elections and came into action partly because of a protest in Selma, Alabama that King helped organize. The protest included a march from Selma to Montgomery, the state capital. It was interrupted with tear gas and police brutality, but the point came across loudly and clearly. They would fight for their rights using weapons of words and tactics of peace.
In 1968, the life of Martin Luther King Jr. came to an end when a sniper assassinated him at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. He died moments later in St. Joseph's Hospital from a gunshot wound to the neck.
In 1842, Father Edward Sorin started this University. He, too, had a vision. A vision of young people learning to use the gifts of knowledge, wisdom, discipline and integrity in order to better this world. With the celebration of Martin Luther King Day, it is important for Notre Dame students, faculty and administration to think about the strong correlation between the visions of Sorin and King.
Both Sorin and King worked for a world in which people would rise above petty judgment and closed minds, a world in which people would learn together and work together for the good of one another.
If King were to walk onto this campus, one hopes that he would be pleased. It is up to each individual to eradicate prejudices and to confront any fear of those who are different.
"And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, `Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.'"
All Scene Stories for Monday, January 24, 2000