Here’s what he said in 1963 referring the church bombing victims in Alabama. “They [the victims] say to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution. They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American dream.”
It was a bit of a culture shock to move from Nebraska into the south – a region still steeped in a culture that honors those who fought to prolong slavery – a heritage that is built on owning other human beings. I drive north on I65 a couple times a week to see a monument erected off the highway of a confederate general who was a founding member of the KKK named Nathan Bedford Forrest. He’s right there off the interstate on his horse with a drawn sword and gun. This monument was sculpted by the man that defended the assassin of Dr. Martin Luther King JR. He justified the memorial by saying in 1998, “Somebody needs to say a good word for slavery”. 13 confederate flags fly around this monument. The same flag flies today at full staff in the wake of the #EmanuelAME shooting near the capital of South Carolina – a flag that is a symbol of one of the most evil social institutions in our history. The same flag on the license plate of the murderer – driving on streets named after men who fought to reduce black men and woman to mere commodities. A culture of nostalgia for an era in which black people were enslaved and oppressed breeds this kind of violence. A system, a way of life and a philosophy that produces murderers like this 21 year old man that premeditated this act of hatred to terrorize the black community.
Those who love justice will speak out on behalf of the marginalized and the oppressed.
“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” -MLK JR
The most alarming thing is that it’s not merely the silence of good people. Read the comment sections on any posts relating to this. There will always be good, law abiding, church going, people who blindly continue to defend the majority and the privileged – those who deny the existence of systemic oppression while singing “let justice and praise become my embrace” or “speak out for freedom” on Sunday morning. I dream of a continued movement towards equality, freedom and justice for all. This shooting reopens wounds that are decades and centuries old. Anger is the righteous response here – but not without hope. Prayer – but not without action. Love – but not without justice.