My Thoughts by Rick Stephens

Recognizing a Man or a Turning Point?

Posted in Attitudes by Rick on the January 14th, 2007

Martin Luther King Jr.Tomorrow, January 15, 2007, we recognize one of this country’s greatest advocates to civil rights, a man who courageously stood firm for the rights of African Americans during a time when almost no one was willing to allow the African American equality, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

We celebrate the day as Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the only holiday this country has using the name of an American Citizen. At one time we celebrated Lincoln’s Birthday and Washington’s Birthday, but those holidays have transformed into Presidents Day in recognition of all of our Presidents.

The other day, a friend of the family who is 9 years old, asked me a very provocative and thoughtful question, a question generated from the innocence of a child. She asked, “Why do we have a Martin Luther King Day but not a John F. Kennedy Day?” I probed a little before I answered the question to try and understand what she was really asking. It turns out that she did not understand the reason there were events and days that were specifically focused on the African American population.

Of course, I tried to explain that African Americans in this country were severely suppressed for many years, and it was during a difficult period of our country’s history that one man, Dr. Martin Luther King, stood firm under extreme adversity to bring respect, pride, and equality to this segment of our population. Even while I attempted to articulate the reason for a day named for an African American, I began to ask some of my own questions.

Why do we continue to separate the African American from the rest of the nationalities in this country? We have a Miss Black America Pageant, Black Entertainment Television, etc. I understand that every nationality wants, and needs, to be recognized, and we should all be proud of our heritage. That is not in question here, but these types of events go beyond pride and seem to define equality as something that is still segregated from all others. Was it not the goal of the Civil Rights movement to garner parity for African Americans, or was it to reinforce the attitude of the 1957 version of the Civil Rights Act, “Equal but Separate?”

We made an awful mistake during our early history, and the world has made many of these types of mistakes during its struggle to become a civilized society. I believe it is time we truly grant equality to the races. It has been almost 50 years since the Civil Rights Act was passed and almost 140 years since slavery was legal in this country. It is time we come together, once and for all, put aside our mistakes of the past, allow this wound to heal, and move forward as a united country.

Regarding MLK Day, my friend was right, why do we have a Martin Luther King Day and no John F. Kennedy Day? After all, there were many significant people who were contributors to the passing and subsequent strengthening of the Civil Rights Act, including Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, Linda Brown and her father Oliver, who challenged segregation in the public schools (Brown v. the Board of Education), James Meredith (University of Mississippi), and many other courageous Americans, some whose names we will never hear. They all were willing to make tremendous sacrifices in order to propel our nation out of this nightmare. They too should be recognized for their efforts.

Perhaps it would be a major step forward if we changed the name of Martin Luther King Day as we did with Washington’s Birthday and Lincoln’s Birthday, to Civil Rights Day, or some other name which we can use to acknowledge all of the great Americans who contributed to the goal of equality for everyone.

To quote the venerated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during his infamous March on Washington, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal.’ ” I believe that if we truly want to reach this goal and become a nation united and equal as Dr. King’s dream portrayed, we need to stop segregating our races and come together under one name, Americans.

To Your Success,

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