For my 30th birthday last September, I went to Atlanta, Georgia, and the stated intent was to skydive, but Atlanta has a lot of neat things around the area aside from that, largely free and walkable (once you’re in Atlanta). I talked about one of those being The Walking Dead “bridge,” aka, the Jackson Street Bridge. You can read about that here.
Well, another one of the big items I stumbled upon, which admittedly I didn’t even know was there, was the birthplace home of Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as where he’s entombed with his wife, Coretta Scott King. The entombment is at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, which is also right near the famed, historical Ebenezer Baptist Church. To see a church that not only was built in 1886, but where MLK himself co-pastored, had his funeral service, and then Congressman John Lewis also had his funeral service (for which former President Barack Obama attended) gave me goosebumps.
In fact, that entire area where Martin Luther King, Jr. was born, Sweet Auburn, is sort of a Civil Rights Era historic neighborhood. One of the other houses I took a photo of was that of Rev. Peter James Bryant and then later Antoine Graves.
The tombstones are centered in the middle of the most gorgeous reflecting pool I’ve ever seen — the most striking blue water. There’s also an eternal flame opposite the reflecting pool.
I’ve been meaning to share this story since I went in September 2020, but I’ve been procrastinating as usual, but I suppose that turned out well since I can share them now on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
King was a far more complex, nuanced and interesting character than history will allow or encompass in one day (or uh, one blog post), but I always like to take a moment on this day to think about him and his contributions to America. I think the biggest takeaway I’ve always had from King is that his worry wasn’t the extremist in the Ku Klux Klan hood, but the moderate who apathetically said, “Wait. Just wait.” That’s a sort of paraphrase of one of the passages from his Letter from a Birmingham Jail.
The passage is too dang good not to quote in full:
“I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
You can read the full letter here.
Also, I think something that isn’t talked about as much, regardless of one’s political persuasion or how they try to funnel their own views through MLK, is that of his religious beliefs. I just mentioned that he was a co-pastor and was obviously deeply religious, but I don’t feel like that aspect of his worldview is talked about much or those lessons are imparted on fellow Christians enough. I would think it’s those religious beliefs that informed his nonviolent beliefs and his antiwar beliefs and his views on poverty. Nonetheless.
Here are the pictures I took. The picture of the yellow house is where MLK was born:
I was one of the speakers at a Freedom Walk for Palestinians, here where I live in Nashville, and I was honored to meet two of the original Freedom Riders, who rode from Nashville to Alabama during the height of violence in the MLK era. The Freedom Riders were attacked not only by unruly mobs, but by the police as well. Decades later, they were still working for equality and justice, even for people far away. They both spoke, on the steps of the state Capitol building, and one mentioned that in those days African Americans were not allowed to use the toilets and had to “pee in the bushes.”
Poetry lovers may be interested to know that a great poet — Percy Bysshe Shelley — was the originator of the idea of nonviolent disobedience as a way to reform unjust governments. Later, Henry David Thoreau picked on the idea, as did Gandhi, who would often quote Shelley during his speeches.
MLK was a poet in his famous “I Have A Dream” poem-sermon-speech. I recognized this as a boy in a poem I wrote in which an older Poet (with a capital “P”) speaks to a younger poet (with a lower-case “p”) who echoes his thoughts. In the original poem the younger poet speaks in italics but that doesn’t work here, so I have used ellipses instead …
Poet to poet
by Michael R. Burch
I have a dream
…pebbles in a sparkling sand…
of wondrous things.
I see children
…variations of the same man…
Black and yellow, red and white,
…stone and flesh, a host of colors…
together at last.
I see a time
…each small child another’s cousin…
when freedom shall ring.
I hear a song
…sweeter than the sea sings…
of many voices.
I hear a jubilation
…respect and love are the gifts we must bring…
shaking the land.
I have a message,
…sea shells echo, the melody rings…
the message of God.
I have a dream
…all pebbles are merely smooth fragments of stone…
of many things.
I live in hope
…all children are merely small fragments of One…
that this dream shall come true.
I have a dream . . .
…but when you’re gone, won’t the dream have to end?…
Oh, no, not as long as you dream my dream too!
Here, hold out your hand, let’s make it come true.
…i can feel it begin…
Lovers and dreamers are poets too.
…poets are lovers and dreamers too…
Later, I was once the only caucasian in the software company I founded and managed. I had two fine young black programmers working for me, and they both had keys to my house. This poem looks back to the dark days of slavery and the Civil War it produced.
In My House
by Michael R. Burch
When you were in my house
you were not free—
in chains bound.
I was wrong;
my plantation burned to the ground.
I was wrong.
This is my song,
this is my plea:
I was wrong.
When you are in my house,
now, I am not free.
I feel the song
hurling itself back at me.
We were wrong.
This is my history.
I feel my tongue
We were wrong;
brother, forgive me.
Published by Black Medina
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