The Speech That Martin Luther King Jr. Never Wrote

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.” I Have A Dream- Martin Luther King Jr.

She asked me if the Ku klux Klan shot Dr. King in the head or the chest.  I looked at this child of mine and marveled at the intensity in her eyes and watched her fingers flex the same way mine do when I am angry.

My girl, my daughter is outraged. She is angry and she wants answers. In a few days I am going to visit school to see the performance they are doing about Dr. King. She knows the name of the man that murdered him and she wants to know if he was part of the KKK.

She knows about Rosa Parks and she wants to know what I did about this. She wants to know if I tried to help her. She understands that we don’t live in the South and that I haven’t ever lived there, but still she wonders. She wonders because it is inconceivable that people could treat others this way.

At 7.5 she doesn’t completely understand that many of the seminal events of the civil rights movement took place before I was born. She is so angry about it she doesn’t remember that King was assassinated in ’68 and that I was born in ’69. But she is confident that I wouldn’t stand for any of these things and that I would have helped.

Painful Conversations

This conversation we have is easier than it was the first time but still uncomfortable. The first time was with her older brother and it was a bit more challenging because I wasn’t quite sure how to explain some things. Time and experience have helped me this time but it doesn’t remove the bitterness of watching layers of innocence disappear.

She has learned that not everyone is nice. She has learned that people will commit heinous acts towards others for reasons that no  one can really explain. She knows of hate and I can’t make jokes about it leading to The Dark Side.

And because she isn’t the oldest she benefits from his experience. He tells her a few stories he knows and she asks me about gas chambers and whether people really murder babies.  We talk about things and I work hard to confirm and clarify that she has accurate information.

The gas chamber isn’t related to this and she knows that. But she wants to know who comes up with that idea. She doesn’t get it. We have a Black president so it doesn’t make sense to her these stories she hears. I have her permission to beat people up who are mean and don’t let people sit where they want to on the bus.

Dad Says

We talk again about why we judge people and how. I look at her and make sure she understands that her dad says we judge people based upon how they act and nothing else but I know there are inconsistencies and questions on her mind.

I know that she is watching and listening. I know that she is wondering and looking for answers that are Black and White without shades of gray.

She tells me that the play they are doing at school quotes a famous speech about dreams and wants to know what I think. I tell her that I wish it was the speech that Martin Luther King Jr. never wrote and she asks why. “Because I wish that it was never needed or necessary.”

Her head nods and she says she agrees and then she tells me that it did happen so we need to remember it.  She is right about that. We remember the past so that we don’t make the same mistakes. I am proud of her but still there is a little piece of me that feels sad that she has to learn about this, innocence only lasts so long and I wish that I could protect hers just a little bit longer.

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Comments

  1. Can we go kick some bankers now, Jack? [grin]

    JM Bell spoke wisdom as you noted.

  2. Uncomfortable but necessary talks. Thankfully she and your son are learning from their father and not from someone else.
    I have been having these kinds of talks with my kids and part of me is sad too that their innocence is slowly going away but part of me wants them to know about the world they live in. Maybe one day, they can make a difference.

    • You are right to teach them about the world. It is better for them to learn from us and to find out what our beliefs and values are.

      That is not for someone else to teach.

  3. Well written Jack. When my guys were her age there were similar conversations. 4 years later, we still talk about these things in as much that they still don’t understand how people can act with such hatred. I expect that it will someday become clear but that they will be able to set good examples by what I’ve taught them. I’m sure you expect the same from your children. Answering the hard questions is the only way for them to see how we really feel. So many parents leave these questions for school to answer. Bravo Jack.

    • Hi JG,

      Someone has to answer the hard questions and if we don’t than who will.

      I don’t want to leave that up to someone else so…

  4. a fitting tribute to Dr King. Well done Jack. thanks JA

  5. I must say you are a very good father and read your child’s mind very nicely. You have just experienced some of the toughest aspects of parenting. Your child will grow up great. Well written.

  6. It seems to me, Jack, that you are protecting her well enough by allowing her to grow and helping her acquire the emotional/cognitive tools she needs to face the world and retain clarity of mind even as she loses her childish innocence.

    Losing innocence doesn’t mean you stop being kind.

    • Hi John,

      My favorite part of your comment is that last sentence. If I can help my children remain kind I will have done something exceptionally important.

  7. Hello JackB
    Finally got over here, it’s been a while.
    Like the site alot!
    Both of us have been busy.
    I was living in Ireland during the King years, and it was very difficult to understand these issues. We did not have black people in Ireland in any numbers then, and now too.

    It was most puzzling to watch a nation kill what appeared to be the most bright lights: King , John and Bobby Kennedy.

    Anyway, after living in the South for the a dozen years, I understand things from three perspectives: The foreigner, The Northerner, and the Southerner. None of these views are the same, in any shape.

    I Live in Akron Ohio, and it is a mulitracial community. Good and bad, rich and poor, from all shapes, colours and creeds.

    Thanks for the article. I bet the web won’t match this and there will be a few that try.

    Billy

    • Hi Billy,

      It is good to see you.It sounds like you have the sort “education” that you can’t get any other way than by doing what you did.

      The opportunity to live in a community provides an experience that I think is quite valuable.

      It is part of why I wish that I could live to be a 1000. There are lot of places I would live and things I would do.

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