As we pause to celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., a dedicated and determined fighter — and undoubtedly the most well known — in the fight for racial equality, one thing should be abundantly clear: That through it all, African-Americans, along with their fellow-Americans, have much to celebrate. The intellectual capital, blood, sweat, toil, tears, and ultimately his life helped to make America what it is today. But the race is not won.
There is still so much to be done to pick up where he left off and continue the race for equal educational opportunities for children, economic development for communities, and political participation around the seats of government. Have you picked up the baton in the race to achieve equality?
This race for equality has been unlike any we have known. It can be likened to a relay marathon. African Americans have had great distance runners through the ages. They accepted the challenges and ran as far as they could go, but found that the vestiges of racial discrimination and oppression reached much too far. Martin Luther King’s fight to gain equal access, equal educational opportunities, equal jobs, the right to vote, and just “plain old” decent and humane treatment, was but another great leg in that marathon race that started long ago and which chronicles a long, difficult, and arduous journey.
If you had the opportunity to see the epic mini-series Roots, and the movie Amistad, both of which so vividly portray that the race for freedom really began before blacks landed on American soil, a people destined to fall victim to a life of servitude and bondage. But one needs not go back very far in the caverns and recesses of history to recall pivotal periods and central figures in the sojourn to reach a place where blacks could participate and enjoy what America boasts about affording all of its citizens.
So, as we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King, we would do well to reflect on others who went before him and paved the way for his contribution in the quest for racial equality.
In the mid to late 19th century, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and Sojourner Truth, great abolitionists picked up the baton in the race for freedom in the worst of times, under some very perilous conditions, against formidable odds. But they succeeded in completing many legs in this marathon to win that sacred American prize that would breathe life into that most self-evident truth — that all men are created equal. They achieved a very necessary milestone: Through their efforts, many ancestors of contemporary black Americans were able to breathe the sweet air of freedom. But the ultimate prize of equality, equal status with all other Americans, was still very elusive and out of reach.
As the race continued early in 20th century and through World War II, the freedom baton was passed on to the likes of Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey, and W.E.B. Dubois, others who accepted the challenge of running to bring our people a little closer to the prize. In the fifties, Malcolm X, Roy Wilkins, Adam Clayton Powell, and many, many others in various walks of life and professions advanced the cause — winning yet another leg in the race.
And then, there was Rosa Parks. What a difference she made.
We are now in the dawn of a new century. Blacks, as a people should be ever mindful that they have been running relay marathons in many fields and in many places. While many African-Americans, today, are receiving recognition in science, music, education, athletics, medicine, political leadership — virtually all fields — they must not forget those who paved the way before them.
Many African-Americans, known and unknown, quietly and not-so-quietly, have entered this great race to equality, often running hungry, ill-clothed, and in the cloak of fear, through sunshine and in rain — but run, they did. And run, blacks, today, must.
As we celebrate the legendary and national achievements of Martin Luther King, let us not overlook the African-Americans who have achieved a number of historical firsts and have made meaningful contributions. President Barack Obama, the most notable.
Let our celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. ,and those before him, continue when his birthday is long past…around the dinner table with our children, in the book clubs, with our colleagues at work, in the our quiet moments to gain resolve to make our contribution — whatever that might be. That should be the resolve of blacks, whites, Hispanics, and people of all hues and ethnic origins.
Let such celebrations anchor the quite resolve within us all to enter the race, and continue to make strides toward the prize — of equality for all.
We must instill this resolve in our children, today, tomorrow, and forever.
Feature photo credit: equalanddiverse.co.uk
Edited and Reprinted with Permission of USAonRace.com