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Remember the Time?

I watched a lot of footage of events marking the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I remember as a four year-old seeing a photo of Dr. King on the cover of either Ebony or Jet, with him laid out in his coffin. I remember thinking at that time, “Why do they have a picture of this man sleeping in his bed on this cover? What a pretty bed it is.” It took me a while to figure out that, one, he wasn’t sleeping, and two, although pretty, it wasn’t a bed. I would never really understand the enormity of the loss and the sacrifice he made for me until I was older.

On Friday I also watched HBO’s “The Boycott,” featuring Jeffrey Wright as Dr. King and Terrence Howard as Rev. Ralph Abernathy during the time of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Clearly they weren’t cast because they looked like the people they were playing, but Wright, who is most certainly assured of an Academy Award somewhere down the line, captured Dr. King’s cadence and what I imagined to be his mannerisms. Howard was no slouch either, and Erik Todd Dellums, who captured Bayard Rustin’s homosexuality for those who knew what to expect, was a tour de force. But what struck me about the movie was the portrayal of the wisdom, nobility and determination of those involved in the boycott. Their identification with those in the Bible who had suffered, too, and their determination to meet every challenge to them with non-violence, pride, and dignity made me long for a time when we as black people not only aspired to those traits, we embodied them. It made me wonder:

Would we have the likes of many of our hip-hop stars if there were someone with the moral capital of a Dr. King to tell them that they should aspire to more than glamorizing sex, money and excess?

Would our kids be dropping out of school at alarming rates if Dr. King were alive to tell them that he put his life and the lives of others on the line for them?

Would the so-called “black church” (I say “so-called” because there is no such thing as one “black church”) wield more social and political power were Dr. King and his cohorts still acting in concert and keeping it on task?

Would we have Bill Cosby penning books such as “Come On, People” if Dr. King had been alive to see the things that made Cosby so angry and spoke out accordingly?

As much as we black people may not want to admit it, when Dr. King died, a big part of us died with him. The part that embodied dignity, nobility, non-violence, and humanity within the race, across class lines.

Remember the time?

To that end, I also note with sadness the passing of Charlton Heston, who provided financial support to the Civil Rights Movement. Sure, he was all wrong on gun control, but he was right on civil rights and right on time about it


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