When I die, I hope nobody mistakes my kindness for niceness. I am not a nice man.
Dr. King’s life profoundly affected mine.
I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice….Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.
Martin Luther King, Jr., from “Letter from a Birmingham Jail“
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was loving, and kind, and powerful. His words still resonate, should you choose to hear them.
Do not confuse non-violence with passivity.
Do not confuse kindness with niceness.
During school announcements yesterday, our students were told that Dr. King pushed “cooperation.” Rania Jones, a 3rd grade winner of the Milwaukee Public Schools’ “People Must Work Together” King contest wrote “That’s what we must do today – demonstrate cooperation.” This is the Dr. King lite version of a complex story. This is the version that gives so many of us the day off on Monday.
“Love” is a complex word, and one not easily used in public settings. “Cooperation” is much safer, more sanitary.
And it’s the wrong message.
My Dad joined the 1963 March on Washington, dressed in full uniform, a proud US Marine officer. He flew A4 Phantom Skyhawks off carriers, in love with a country that let poor first generation children fly.
My dad was pulled to the front of the parade, or so the story goes. If you see a full-dressed USMC officer in photos from the parade, it may well be Bill Doyle. Dr. King later went on to oppose the Viet Nam War as unjust, and my father, a die-hard leatherneck, resigned his commission for the same reason.
I grew up in an Irish Catholic home, but Dr. King held as much influence as the Pope, maybe more, years before he was assassinated. My Dad loved the man, not the cartoon he has become.
Take a walk outside and watch the grace and agony of life around us.
Yes, it’s complicated. Life is complex,
You want to learn about Dr. King? Go read his words, listen to his speeches, learn everything you can about him. But don’t “cooperate” with those who would steal his image without his words, the Mike Pences, the innumerable talking heads that will piously bow today.
Take a walk, a walk outside, away from noise. Carry a copy of King’s letter and read it under the January sunlight.
Share it. Live it.
Don’t let the dream die.
The photo of Dr. King (D.C., August, 1963) is from the National Archives and is the public domain.