Friday, January 14, 2005
How do we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day?
Yes, we all know that celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday means a day off from school for the children in our community, but how do the rest of us celebrate the birthday of this black minister, writer, and civil rights activist renowned for his non-violent movement? I spoke with a minister, a school principal, and a member of the Human Rights Council to learn what plans were being made to honor this 1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner.
Some of us remember King leading the boycott by blacks of the Montgomery bus system in 1955, which eventually led the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that bus segregation was unlawful. Wendy Davis of East Street grew up in the South, in Cornelia, Georgia, and clearly remembers bus drivers ordering blacks to ride in the back of the bus. "I couldn't understand how people could behave the way they did," she told me. "Instead, I asked to ride in the back of the bus, where I was received cordially and respectfully." In 1965 Davis and her husband, the late Jim Davis, flew to Montgomery, Alabama, to take part in the culmination of the Selma March to Montgomery which pressed for voters' rights and freedoms and to bring racial injustice to national attention, as well as promoting a move to integrate the schools. "Marching to Selma was one of the most wonderful days in my life," said Davis. "There was peace and love as we locked arms and sang, marching towards Selma." Davis, a member of the Concord-Carlisle Human Rights Council, spoke in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. as part of the CCHS Choral Concert at the High School auditorium on Thursday night, January 13.
Davis' words reminded me of recent reports in the press that a solution was imminent in the 1964 murders of three Civil Rights volunteers in Mississippi — Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney — that generated widespread support for the civil rights movement. With the arrest of Ku Klux Klan leader Edgar Ray Killen, 79, a suspect for many years, someone has finally been charged with their murders.
Here in the Carlisle School, Principal Steve Goodwin spoke about the Diversity Task Force meeting to be held on Tuesday, January 18, which will focus on the Martin Luther King, Jr. legacy. As he explained it, this group of 20 to 30 teachers and parents has been meeting monthly at the school over the past two years. "Despite living in a community that lacks color, we want to prepare our students to graduate into a high school and into a future work world of diversity," said Goodwin. "This group is trying to increase our students' exposure to multi-cultural groups and then help them find their place in the diversity of the world," he continued. At the end of our conversation Goodwin left me with these thoughtful words of King, "I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be."
Finally I reached Tim Jensen, Minister at the First Religious Society in Carlisle. He will be delivering a sermon on Sunday celebrating the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, as he has in years past. Music at the service will be provided by combined choirs of the First Religious Society and the First Parish in Lexington.
No, the Martin Luther King holiday is much more than a day off from school. For many of us it's a day to remember the benefits that King's civil rights movement has brought to blacks in this country — the right to vote, better integrated schools, affirmative action when necessary, and possibilities for advancement in our society. In the 1960s King aligned the civil rights nonviolence movement with those protesting the war in Vietnam. One wonders, if he were alive today, how would he use the nonviolence approach to oppose the war in Iraq?
Generous to a fault
The physics of a tsunami are relatively simple to explain, but its devastating effect is nearly beyond comprehension. Thousands of feet below the ocean's surface, an earthquake — which nobody sees or hears — causes a sudden rift in the sea floor, as if the bottom dropped out. This in turn generates a wave traveling at 500 miles an hour (about the speed of a jet airliner). In open water, sailors hardly take notice, because the crest is only a few feet high. However, when the wave approaches a shore, it rears up to the height of a two-story building. Hitting the beach without warning, it wipes out everything in its path, surging hundreds of yards inland. Then the real destruction starts. As the wave recedes back into the ocean, it generates tremendous suction, sweeping everything that's loose out to sea. In a matter of a few minutes, whole towns are wiped outcompletely gone. The recent Asian tsunami obliterated coastal villages that were a whole continent away from the earthquake's epicenter, and the destruction of life and property was truly stunning. At first, it was feared that perhaps as many as 15,000 might have died. Now we know the total is at least ten times that. Worse yet, millions have suffered horrible losses of family members, houses, and whole livelihoods. It will take years, if not decades, for them to recover.
It's important to note that the tsunami was nobody's fault. Young or old, rich or poor, Hindu, Muslim or Buddhist, no one in its path was spared. In an odd way, this is a bit of a blessing, because there can be no recriminations. Unlike man-made disasters, there's no one to blame. Since the tidal waves hit, it's been reported that more than $4 billion has been pledged for the relief effort, about $27,000 per fatality. Compare this with the aid for victims of the civil war in the Congo — a man-made disaster — where more than 4 million people have died since 1998. A recent article in the Boston Globe states that humanitarian aid raised for those victims was less than $200 million last year.
Fortunately, Americans are very generous by nature, and a literal flood of money has already been pledged to help the survivors. (In fact, some relief agencies, such as Doctors Without Borders, say that they have already raised more funds than they can use at the present time.) Since the damage was spread over nearly a dozen countries on two continents thousands of miles apart, and since the victims do not share a common language, religion, culture, or government, it's extraordinarily difficult to coordinate an effective relief effort. The dead must be buried and the injured cared for; roads, sewers and power lines restored; homes and businesses rebuilt; and there is an imminent threat of starvation and disease. The damage and heartbreak are so widespread, and the task at hand so enormous, that it's hard to know where to start.
Why should we care about this in Carlisle? After all, we're unlikely to be hit by a tidal wave any time soon, and we have little to fear from earthquakes, hurricanes, floods or tornados. We care because we've come to realize that we all have a stake in the outcome, even if those who are most afflicted live half a world away. When trouble of this magnitude strikes, it has a way of bringing us all closer together, making the world a little smaller.
© 2005 The