Wednesday, April 04, 2018

"I've been to the Mountaintop" - remembering MLK

I first read "I've been to the Mountaintop" I was at university reading famous speeches from around the world. I remember reading it, picking it apart and seeing the tropes and when listening to it hearing where the words were enunciated and clear. It was a good speech, an emotional speech I thought. It must have been something listening to that at the time. It has a lot of references to what had happened during the close years, and a lot of references to the Bible.

Fast forward a decade or so. Me walking through the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis TN, the city I then had moved to, and getting to listen to the speech at the old Lorraine Motel. The museum is inside of the old Lorraine Motel, you get to see the two adjacent rooms where MLK stayed, and you see the wreath outside on the balcony. And wow, the difference in me when I now heard the words, rather than "just reading them back in my safe country". I can't explain it. I will say though, if you ever go to Memphis TN - You have to go to the National Civil Rights Museum! Schedule a day, even if you walk through the museum faster than 3 hours (average) you will most likely need another few hours to decompress, talk and try and grasp the things you've seen, heard and experienced.

The museum walks you through history of the United States, which is the history of Slaves and displacements of so many people. The checkered stories of the South in the USA in particular, the rest of the USA in context, and the world in general.

It's not an easy museum to go through. It takes time. It makes me feel uneasy. It brings up emotions I wasn't really sure of where they came from. Listening to my mother and father talking about their experiences with the 1960ies in Sweden when a lot of this went on in the USA. Talking to, and answering questions from my younger relatives and children of friends, trying to explain how the South could be so different, yet not so different from the North. How different I want it to be now. How some things have changed, and yet some has not.

Reading the eye witness accounts from the 1960ies and the Freedom Marches. Seeing Ross Barnett, then Governor of Mississippi on National TV proudly explaining "no school in Mississippi will be intergrated on my watch". And when James Meredith went of Ole Miss in 1962, after the Fifth Circuit Court had ruled he was to be admitted, there was two body guards with him his entire time at university and a riot broke out the first day - people died and the National Guard was there.

Watching Ernst Withers' collection of photographs on Beale Street with my visitors to my home when we walk downtown is another way of trying to understand, to grasp how and what happened in Memphis - and other places - in the 1960ies, 70ies and how it influences everything around us now today.

"Those who do not remember their history are destined to repeat it"

Listening to Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit" is never easy to me nowadays but it shouldn't be. It should make us all work hard to never forget and never repeat those horrible times. (It's about lynchings. Something much more common even in the 1900 century than I thoughts.)

I'll round this off by quoting the man who died today 50 years ago. The man who spent numerous days in jail writing letters and supporting people all over to march for human rights, and who inspired thousands then and still does. The man for whom church bells will ring at 6pm tonight in Memphis, 39 times will the bells toll. One for each year of his life that was cut too short by someone gunning him down at the Lorraine Motel.

Martin Luther King, Jr died today in 1960 only 39 years old. And we should all wow to ourselves never to give up the fight for equal rights for all human beings.

"That's the question before you tonight. Not, "If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to my job. Not, "If I stop to help the sanitation workers what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?" The question is not, "If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?" The question is, "If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?" That's the question.

Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation. And I want to thank God, once more, for allowing me to be here with you."
[from "To the Mountaintop", the last speech by Martin Luther King, Jr April 3rd 1960]

National Civil Rights Museum (from another march)