Words for all Seasons

I daresay that most of the people that dislike the celebration of anything Martin Luther King have never read the Letter from Birmingham Jail. I hadn't. As a '60's youth I was buffeted on the subject by the swirling opinions of my elders as "I say…" volleyed from one generation to another. My dearest grandmother from deepest Georgia was convinced Rev. King was Satan incarnate. Her daughter eyed the ruler of our family with respectful silence and I with fearful awe. The trail of violence my young eyes absorbed on the nightly news was enough to convince me that whatever this preacher was doing, it couldn't be good. I was sticking with Granny on this one.

It wasn't until I left the nest for college that a new Martin Luther King appeared.

One night while reluctantly plodding through the required reading, Letter from Birmingham Jail, thunderous truth shattered my comfortable certainty. Before me were words that destroy myth and misconception. These were not the words of a shallow self promoter, but rather the words of a brilliant well educated and courageous man truly committed to "liberty and justice for all." Granny and I had been misled.

I think others have been as well. Somewhere in the not too distant past, I read a very interesting story in the Washington Post about the naming of streets after Rev. King. It seems that many of the streets, highways and byways that have been chosen for this honor have been in predominately black areas. As a result, a presumption exists that a Martin Luther King address equals a black neighborhood and by extension a depressed neighborhood. Some businesses are refusing to locate on streets that bear the name and others are resisting efforts to name their streets after Rev. King using the smokescreen of "costs."

You would think that after we shed the ignominious distinction of being one of the last two counties in North Carolina that didn't observe Rev. King's birthday that we would be all too happy to mend fences by quickly naming a street after him. The proposal to do so was put forth by leaders of the black community led by Rev. Naomi Bynum who said, "Dr. King was a man of great works for all mankind through the civil rights era and we would like to honor his works and his memory." (Times-News 12/1/01) What controversial street did they pick out? Why the one that runs right through the heart of their community, from the Boys and Girls Club past Green Meadows Community to Four Seasons Boulevard. Imagine that! A street within their own community. Actually, it's a perfect street except for three small problems-white business number one, white business number two and white business number three.

I would propose in view of the Post article that the real reason these businesses have written letters of complaint to City Council opposing the name change is not because of burdensome stationary costs but because they don't want to go from 745 Ashe Street to 745 Martin Luther King Street. These businesses are worried that an MLK address might tarnish their image. They haven't read the Letter from Birmingham Jail either.

Mayor Niehoff has generously proposed giving Rev. King the back of the bus-urr, street where neither hide nor hair of business can be found. Rev. King has been offered four blocks on one street and two blocks on another somewhere in the better part of nowhere. A back alley would probably make certain people happier. All I have to say is, I hope it doesn't take us as long to find an appropriate street to honor Dr. King with as it did to celebrate the holiday. (Pres. Reagan established the Martin Luther King Birthday Holiday in 1983 and Henderson County and Hendersonville began observing it in 2001.)

So, dear reader, as we begin a new year, building from the ashes of the last, I can think of no better words of encouragement and call to arms than words from the Letter From Birmingham Jail. However, please don't be satisfied with just these few crumbs from the banquet table, read the letter yourself amidst winter's solitude:

"We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never tolls in on wheels of inevitability;…"

"…all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows."

"Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood."

"Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty."--- Reverend Martin Luther King.

Update: At the council meeting January 10th, City Council courageously tabled the request to name Ashe street after Rev. Martin Luther King citing the reason that this was such a "significant" decision that more due care needed to be taken.

To my readers: If you ever wonder if I get comments on these columns, I do occasionally. What are your thoughts on the matter?
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*The opinions stated in this page are those of Ms. Eva Ritchey and do not necessarily represent the views of CyTech Computers & Internet Solutions, Inc.
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