By Anthony J. Marsella
Ladies and Gentlemen, I write to you today from Atlanta, Georgia, USA, birthplace and national shrine of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968), clergyman, civil rights leader, social activist, Nobel Prize Laureate, and martyr to the cause of justice.
I write to call your attention to the land where one man made the word ‘‘justice’’ a living reality, where one man’s relentless and indomitable pursuit of “justice” for his people, and for people everywhere, changed history through non-violent protest inspired by an oratory filled with inspired thought and hopes.
I write to welcome you to the land where one’s man’s vision changed a nation’s identity, conscience, and heritage of slavery and abuse of African-Americans, and of all people living in bondage across the world seeking opportunity, screaming for dignity, begging for relief.
It was here, more than 50 years ago, in Atlanta, Georgia, and in a thousand other places across the land, from Alabama to Chicago, from Washington D.C. to California, a deep, resonant, baritone voice of a Black man electrified the air with words of such magnitude, of such righteousness, of such eloquence, of such truth, they crushed historic roots of oppression lifting the human spirit to new levels of possibility.
It was here, in Atlanta, Georgia, a Black man refused to be silenced, denying fear, injury, and pain, and threats, dangers, and risks to life. It was here, and across the land, hundreds of thousands harkened to King’s inspiring words, joining in protests at costs to their safety, health, and life.
The task before King, and for countless others taking the cause of “justice” in those tumultuous years, was to undo a history of oppression, and to build a future founded on laws guaranteeing justice, equality, and liberty, regardless of race, creed, color, gender or any social-identity marker.
This, then, is the pressing challenge of life in our global age, as nations withdraw from social responsibilities, and dismiss ideals promised by government, and guaranteed by universal human rights and accepted moral codes.
Wednesday, April 4, 2018, in memorial celebration of the tragic assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., we gather to share ideas, to seek wisdom, to pursue inspiration, and to bond in common purpose, in honor of Reverend King’s legacy.
Let me, however, be clear in my message to you:
I do not write to tell you the profound changes inspired by King and countless others who followed his ways in the 1960s are sufficient. Nor do I write to tell you we must be content with the many broken political barriers, proud of social advances, and with patient remaining challenges.
I write today to tell you King’s words are enshrined in stone to remind us the struggle for justice will always continue. I write to you today to tell you the fierce and exhausting struggle beginning in the Land of King 50 years ago, has not ended, and will continue for generations to come.
I write today to tell you the roots of hate, ignorance, and evil endure, nurtured by the protective veils of government corruption, cronyism, greed, and religious prejudices sanctioned by dogma and custom. I call upon you today to join King’s call to justice, now more than 50 years old as it still echoes throughout our global age.
Listen! Can you hear the cries of the masses around the world leading lives of desperation, lives devoid of hope, lives existing from moment to moment, each breath lacking reflexive assurance the next breath will bring solace to an aching body, and also to a troubled mind?
Events in recent months regarding the betrayal of our government’s Justice and National Security Agency staff and offices raise serious questions about the sources of Reverend King’s assassination. It is said, Reverend King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, with a rifle bullet fired by James Earl Ray at 6:01 on April 4, 1968. A single assassination? A conspiracy? Today’s DC scandals leave open the question of assassination, albeit we now know government offices, agencies, and people have engaged in criminal acts.
There was, at the time, extensive fear among the highest offices of our land that Reverend King’s words would spark massive protests for social reform regarding legal and civil rights, especially for African American populations doomed to limited fixed roles and opportunities.
It is well known, and inescapably criminal, that J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the FBI, and one of the destructive forces in his time, sought to stop Reverend King’s influence by threatening him with exposure of affairs with women and urging him to commit suicide. Hoover was furious over Reverend King’s efforts to stop the war in Vietnam, efforts that were to prove prescient as the war’s tolls upon Vietnam and the United State of America’s society became doomed with endless guilt at its carnage.
Hoover was also fearful the civil rights movement would challenge the status quo:
FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, feared the civil rights movement and investigated the allegations of communist infiltration. When no evidence emerged to support this, the FBI used the incidental details caught on tape over the next five years in attempts to force King out of his leadership position in the COINTELPRO program. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther_King_Jr.
The question of Reverend King’s assassination remains open to debate. Today, a building in Washington, DC, is named after J. Edgar Hoover, and a gradually expanding national monument is being built in Atlanta, Georgia, close to Reverend King’s home and church, to honor Reverend King. The monument is insufficient given Reverend King’s legacy and impact. We must insure his words will be present in every classroom across the land because they go beyond protests, anti-war and civil rights protests. “They are timeless!”
Slavery, and its brutal legacy, sullied and stained by inadequate USA peace and justice efforts, continue. Reverend King’s words and actions challenged the comfort zones of those in power at local, national, and international levels. Their efforts after saturating Black areas with illegal drugs, and imposing prison terms on offenders with even slight amounts of illegal substance, were unable to halt the rising tide of freedom and justice Reverend King’s word inspired. Was the “War on Drugs” really a war on black people?
Today, we are engaged in a global struggle for justice. There are victims of war and violence. There are victims of labor, gender, and child exploitation. There are victims of oppression, there are victims denied freedom. All victims yearn for recognition, support, and justice. All victims are you, for there is no other! This was the message in King’s words.
Answering King’s call, and the call of billions of others living amid injustice, will not be easy! Heeding King’s call will add burdens to conscience, press discomforting responsibilities upon daily rounds, and risk threat to security.
In answering the call, your life will not be the same. You will be required to face harsh realities; you will be singled out for abuse from reactionary forces whose accepted inhumanity keeps them locked in hate. Your life itself will be at risk. Yes, your efforts will bring you threats and surveillance.
What will not be at risk, however, is your personal integrity, your dignity, your identity, and your position of gratitude, respect, and admiration in the heart and minds of those you help.
Pursuit of justice is not for the faint of heart. You can expect condemnation, ridicule, insult, entrapment, and defamation; costs are high, but rewards are more than gold or silver; rewards come in knowing in our brief time on earth, you have done something to advance the cause of “justice.”
As Reverend King would, in my humble opinion, say: Brethren, I share with you the words spoken before in a distant land, by a humble man, who understood the evils of violence and hatred, anticipating his own death at vile hands: Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. AMEN