But we do forget things that changed the course of history in large and small ways. With each new generation, the information is available, but the lasting impact of “being there” is often diminished by the passage of time.
Those of us who were alive on 9/11 will “never forget.” As long as we live, we will relive in our memories the horror of that day. Those of us who were around when John F. Kennedy was assassinated in a motorcade in Dallas will forever have those black-and-white images from the back of his car embedded in our minds. Other incidents we will “never forget” are assassinations that followed, not muddied in any way by the multiple conspiracy theories that continue to this day.
We recall, too, that on April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was fatally wounded on the balcony of a Memphis motel. Those of us who were in the military at that time will never forget the riots that broke out in cities across the country, leaving 30 dead, thousands of people arrested and more than 2,000 people injured. We will never forget that day or the impact it had on the nation.
Ironic as it may seem to those who did not live at that time, the rioting and killing that ensued were justified by some in the name of a man of peace and peaceful resistance.
And so we pause as a nation on the third Monday of each January to remember Dr. King’s profound impact on civil rights in the nation. As with all such events, even the killing of singer John Lennon, we vow to “never forget.” We mark those fateful days with tributes, ceremonies and moments of reflection.
The Martin Luther King federal holiday, I fear, will become like so many other designated days off that are remembered more as the tail end of a three-day weekend.
It took nearly 20 years, amid the kind of resistance that might seem unfathomed today, for the holiday to achieve its current status. Even then it met with tough resistance, finally recognized nationally in 2000.
Perhaps it was because theretofore such recognition was only accorded to presidents, all of whom were white. Resistance, from what I observed, came from those who saw it only as a “black holiday.” People tainted by a history of viewing black people as inferior simply could not accept such an honor for someone they viewed as a “troublemaker.”
Indeed he was a troublemaker, in the best sense of the word. He was the icon of a people too long oppressed and disadvantaged simply because of the color of their skin. Racists, and those who were open to their rhetoric, feared equal rights for anyone they and/or their predecessors regarded as inferior.
Most people alive today never experienced “whites only” drinking fountains and restrooms, and restrictions on virtually every aspect of life, based on race. But those who were there, who experienced or witnessed this discrimination, will also “never forget.” They will remember forever how life was then, and how Dr. King was the champion for change in a country unwilling to change.
The day before he was assassinated, Dr. King delivered his famous “mountaintop speech.” In part he said: “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now because I’ve been to the mountaintop ... I’ve looked over and I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land.”
Racism has not died in America. If anything, there has been a resurgence of it, with white supremacist groups rearing their ugly heads all around us, even in our own backyard.
When I reflect on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, I will recall his dream that is as yet unrealized.
Dr. King, your impact on our world is something we should “never forget.”
Tom Clinton retired as executive editor of The Messenger in 2011. He and his wife, Barbara, live in Lone Oak.