by M.J. Hunter
On the afternoon that this nation sets aside for the recognition of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther, King, Jr., I trudged over to the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. I recalled that during the Montgomery, Alabama Bus Boycott of 1955, there was an older Black woman who said something to the effect, “My feet ain’t no ways tired.” Well, my feet were, both literally and figuratively — just to give you a sense of where I was mentally and emotionally. I stopped and picked up some coffee at CVS Pharmacy across the street from the Museum before going in because, if nothing else, there would be a delicious cup of brew to look forward to at the end of the day.
Didn’t expect much, but, you know, went. Hmmm? Found the Museum teeming with people of all ages, races and ethnicities, enthusiastically participating in a wide range of activities that were scheduled concurrently. How nice! Picking up on the energy, I walked all around the lower level, checked out the festivities, displays and vendors. Okay! On to the first floor: Visited some displays, exchanged pleasantries with the Museum staff and other visitors, then settled in to view a movie billed as, “A Powerful Rare Film: Free at Last” (The Road to the Poor People’s Campaign) in the General Motors Theater.
Professor Shea Howell, an Oakland University faculty member and Boggs Center Board member, introduced the film. She had met Dr. King early in her life when she invited him to speak at her college. She described the stir his visit caused in the little college town. In preparation for Dr. King’s arrival, the tiny police force got all the riot gear and gadgets on their Christmas list! Prof. Howell had also attended the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968. With vivid details from her reflections and experiences, she made the events of 50 years ago pop with the excitement. She especially remembered the rain. Feeling it! Her talk was an excellent primer for the film, as the movie put the audience right in the midst of testy meetings, in the church rallies, in the schoolyard among welcoming children, at the marches, in the cars, and on the planes with Dr. King and his leadership team as the campaign was being planned and participants recruited. Wow!
I engaged the movie actively — as Black folks do — meaning I sang along when I knew the words, hummed along when I did not; laughed; clapped; and even sang “Happy Birthday” to Dr. King along with those in attendance at a meeting held on his 39th birthday! A significant number of other audience members did likewise. The Movement wasn’t all sorrow, sacrifice, struggle and hardship. There was a lot of laughter, tremendous love and great joy. It was good to be reminded.
The movie was followed by a question and answer session comprised of a young moderator and a panel of young community leaders in their twenties or thirties. Interesting. The young panel talked about how many of the important issues of 50 years ago could be found in today’s headlines. The moderator and the panelists shared how they were making their voices heard as they take on the troubling topics they face in this era. Exciting and invigorating!
The following day, Tuesday, I went to the Main Branch of the Detroit Public Library to attend a session that delved into Dr. King’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail.” I had never actually read the letter in its entirety. The take away from that experience was that Dr. King was truly a great man, a scholar, a man of God, and a man who was for the people and by the people.
Afterwards, I went home and binge-watched the PBS series by Henry Hampton, “Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Movement” (1940-1998). How Mr. Hampton elicited such in-depth interviews from so many principals on both sides of the Movement decades later was nothing short of miraculous. May God rest his soul.
Exploring Dr. King’s life and leadership — albeit more out of obligation than passion — helped me discover new dimensions of his legacy and be re-introduced to many, many, many great leaders — some famous, some not so famous — who were partners in the Movement. Dr. King was worthy of a holiday, and marking the day was worthy of my time. Uplifted, inspired, and encouraged! Lest I forget. Peace!
January 30, 2018