Monday, January 16, 2012

Events in Kingsport pay homage to King’s legacy

An Editorial from the Kingsport Times-News

Today marks the national observance of the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. In a noonday parade in Kingsport, a community luncheon and a candlelight vigil, King’s legacy of nonviolence in the pursuit of justice will be remembered and extolled, as it should.

But if the civil rights leader were alive today, he would surely urge those who seek to honor him and that struggle to make this a day of action, rather than a day of rest and recollection.

That’s not to say there hasn’t been progress, for, of course, there has been. If nothing else, the election of Barack Obama is evidence of that. But there are abundant examples of progress beyond the political and symbolic.

In Dr. King’s time, census statistics revealed that nearly nine of every 10 blacks lived in poverty. Today, more than 40 percent of blacks are solidly middle class. And college attendance rates for blacks are now indistinguishable from whites. Indeed, in many ways, the progress has been so dramatic it tends to obscure the extent of a bigotry that was once a condition of life — and not just in the Jim Crow South.

The world of segregated bathrooms and lunch counters King helped to abolish is as remote in time to the average schoolchild of today as Lincoln’s assassination or the Civil War. It is a world they have seen in pictures, but can never truly know, since they did not live through it. Such is the measure of King’s success in helping to reorder society itself. King’s dream of a world in which people would be defined, “not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” is now a touchstone of modern American life.

Dr. King did more than any other single figure in American history to give that dream dimension and meaning. The Martin Luther King Jr. remembered and celebrated today is a figure dramatically invoking that dream of racial harmony at the rally on the mall in Washington, D.C., in 1963.

Virtually forgotten are the later years, after the passage of the Voting Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965, when King started to decry the huge income gaps between rich and poor and began to call for radical changes in the structure of society.

“True compassion,” he said, “is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

All too soon, however, Dr. King’s exhortations would be silenced by an assassin’s bullet in 1968. He was just 39.

From noon until 1 p.m. today, the 12th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Parade will be held in downtown Kingsport. The event will begin at the intersection of East Sevier and Center Street (Rikki Rhoton Allstate Insurance Co.’s parking lot) and conclude at Shelby Street at the city parking lot between Kingsport City Hall and the Justice Center.

The theme of the parade is summed up in three words: “Remember! Celebrate! Act!” Parade sponsors include Eastman Chemical Company, Food City, Office Depot, Joshua Generation, My Brother’s Keeper, Putting Babies First, H.O.P.E., and the Upper East Tennessee Human Development Agency.

A community luncheon will be held at 1:30 p.m. in the Riverview Community Room at 301 Louis St. It is sponsored by the New Vision Youth and the Kingsport Parks & Recreation Division of Community Service, in partnership with Friends of Distinction and Riverview Residents Association. In addition to the meal itself, there will be door prizes and gospel singing by Full Gospel Mission Church Gospel Choir.

This evening, beginning at 6 p.m., there will be a candlelight vigil honoring Dr. King in the parking lot of the V. O. Dobbins Sr. Complex, 301 Louis St. The theme is “Let’s Walk in Unity & Love Each Other.”

In these local ceremonies as well as many others, we honor the icon that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has become. But hero worship was never King’s interest. Changing society was. His life was all too brief, but the dream he had goes on.

More than four decades after his tragic and untimely death, it’s up to each of us to do our part in making that dream a living reality.