The Life and Times of MLK

Hello, all. I know: what’s that? Who’s that? Does a voice beckon from the Den?

It’s been a while. I know it, you know it, so there’s no sense beating around the bush. I confess I have been somewhat internet-removed of late. Reasons, they could flow like a waterfall down the excuse trail of the great wide web, but a Chris is a Chris, a blog is a blog, and I shall use this space as it’s designed (nevermind that I’m the designer). The only proper way I see to do that is to kick things off in celebration (champagne optional, internet cookies will be provided free of charge).

New Years has now come and gone, but while there remains a long slog of winter left to go, there is still a very important holiday to remember, and it’s already in swing. Did you need to run to your calendar to see? If you’re in the United States, I dare say you should know: it’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a day dedicated to the advancement of liberties in this country, as well as one of its biggest proponents.

Pause a moment. Think on that. Today, America is also inaugurating its first African American president for the second time. President Barack Obama. Fifty, sixty years ago–not even a lifetime–this would not have been thought possible. Martin Luther King Jr. might have longed for it, might have hoped for it one day, but could it have seemed more than another dream to him, as he pondered what the future might hold? Certainly, he would be pleased to see it. Certainly we should all marvel at how far our country has come.

The Rev. Dr. King is a singular figure in the midst of our nation’s long history, but one to be remembered, both for his significance as a symbol and a force, and for the actions and character of the man himself. He gave of himself, quite literally until the end, to achieve racial equality in a nation divided. His speeches are still remembered today as some of the finest bits of oratory to grace the scene, and his cry for non-violence is one that shall be forever engrained in the psyche of the nation. It is for all these reasons that King will be spoken of in schools today, and the government takes a day in memoriam.

Yet his is a conversation not to be contained to time or place. The fight for equality goes on, but so too does hatred, and one of the best weapons we can put against it is this: History. Remembrance. So with that in mind, it pleases me to have for you today an infographic dedicated to the life of a great man, summing up better than my mere words could suffice, and all thanks to the gracious contribution of one Allison Morris.

Read, learn, and remember how the United States has grown:

The Importance of MLK Day

Infographic care of: Allison Morris and Online College Courses.

The Beauty of Travel

“What you’ve done becomes the judge of what you’re going to do – especially in other people’s minds.  When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then.  People don’t have your past to hold against you.  No yesterdays on the road.”
~William Least Heat Moon

Author William Least Heat-Moon speaking in the...

Author William Least Heat-Moon speaking in the Microsoft Auditorium of the Central Library, Seattle, Washington, 10 November 2008 (Photo credit: Joe Mabel, via Wikipedia)

Poetic Spotlight: Let America Be America Again

Langston Hughes, image care of Wikimedia Commons.

This week, we’re trying a little something new (with a little something old) here at the Waking Den. Every Thursday I’ll be doing my best to sift through my library (yes, I’m 22 and I would say I’ve got a good start on a library going) for some of the great works by classic poets – both known, and unknown – to bring before your eyes. Some will be personal favorites. Some will not. All will be here for your benefit, put forth, archived, and ready and waiting for any of your discussions of these immortalized poetic greats.

Today, we kick off the affair with something hardly “lightweight” in subject matter – Langston Hughes’s powerful “Let American Be America Again”. It packs a punch, as a forewarning, as well it should – it speaks to matters many would wish to forget, or to sweep under a rug and keep out of sight, at the least. It speaks of freedom and equality – critiques and hopes, longing–it rings out in a voice that echoes through the ages…and works as such are rarely gentle. Enjoy.

“Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed–
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek–
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean–
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today–O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home–
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay–
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again–
The land that never has been yet–
And yet must be–the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine–the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME–
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose–
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath–
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain–
All, all the stretch of these great green states–
And make America again!”

Of War, Symbols, and Bin Laden

“All wars are follies, very expensive and very mischievous ones.  In my opinion, there never was a good war or a bad peace.  When will mankind be convinced and agree to settle their difficulties by arbitration?”
~Benjamin Franklin

This week’s quote, and thoughts on war in general, was stirred by an event that took place late last night, stirring a great many cheers across this nation. Not long before midnight here, on the east coast of the United States, President Barack Obama came on the news to announce that Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks in 2001, responsible for the deaths of thousands of world citizens, was dead at the hands of U.S. Navy Seals.

The news broadcast images of crowds cheering all across the country. Played old images of the Twin Towers, the screams, the horror, the tears. Showed soldiers on the march. Flags waved, and America howled.

In the streets, and on Twitter, an old cry arose: “Mission Accomplished,” the short-lived and infamous words of the Bush Administration. But therein should come the caution. War still drums on, dear fellows, and a man is just a man. A bullet may put a body to the sand, but it does not end a war. It does not raise a white flag, and usher us all to quiet and to calm. Perhaps it lures one into false senses of security, helps one forget but…Bin Laden is not powerful as a man, he is powerful as a symbol. Those that would declare a war over for the death of one man in a network of hundreds…I do not understand it. It is beyond me.

And in that regard, I end with the sign off I had from twitter last night: Symbols are powerful things. Their creation. Their destruction. But remember—the symbol is never the sum. Cheer, but do not call the battles won.