#MNR: MLK Day
“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.”
I realize that there probably isn’t really much I can tell you about MLK that you don’t already know, short of knit picking for obscure or unnecessary facts. We are all aware of how great a man he was. We are all aware of his legacy. So, instead of trying to be Encyclopedia Brown’s dickhead cousin Tyrone, I’ll share some of my personal sentiment for the man.
Everyone 40 or older in Black America can remember visiting at least one household, whether it be your grandparents or older relatives, with pictures of three men hanging on the wall somewhere in the living room or kitchen. In all reality, most never met or knew two of these men personally, and absolutely no one alive has seen the third in the physical. The first two are JFK and MLK, and the last is Jesus Christ. The first two were usually grouped together on the wall. The portraits always had a blue background. The irony of it is that damn near forty years after seeing those pictures for the first time, my personal perspective on both men has changed somewhat.
Most of what know about Kennedy entails his charm and his assassination on 11.22.1963, to be honest. I was taught that he was a civil rights champion. I learned for myself that his lineage was that of bootleggers and that his inclination towards civil rights was mostly political. I won’t speak on his carnal nature. In short, he wasn’t the man many of my older folk perceived him to be. I’m not the morality police. I merely believe in learning and teaching history from a contextual standpoint.
As for Dr. King, I figured I knew the basics, and I did. I knew of his effort toward the struggle. I knew of his belief in nonviolence. I knew of the eloquent orator he was. And of course, I knew of his assassination on 4.4.1968. But the things that I’ve learned since truly define who MLK is to me. I read his letters from Birmingham Jail. It’s hard to truly fathom how real it is to sit as an innocent man in the jail of an absolute racist city during the Movement. Shit, I need to read those letters again. I’ve been reading a book on Fred Hampton, Chicago Black Panther and civil rights martyr. The book spoke on the fact that Dr. King actually moved to Chicago and rented an apartment in 1966 to mount a campaign against racial discrimination in jobs, housing, and schools. You think Chicago is crazy now? This was ten years before Good Times, twenty years before Ben Wilson was taken from this world the day before he played the first game of his senior season as the #1 high school basketball player in America, thirty years before Common dropped “I Used to Love H.E.R., and forty years before Chiraq as we now know it. Go ‘head on and marinate on that.
What most endears me to MLK is the fact that he was a genuine martyr. MLK was an educated Black man from a well-to-do family. He could have quietly sat in the pulpit of Ebenezer Baptist Church as an associate pastor, raised his family, and waited until dad retired to take over the most influential Black church in Atlanta. He chose to go out into the field and put in work, something he learned from literally being sent into the fields to perform manual labor as a child, at his father’s behest. MLK Sr. made Jr. work in the fields so he could respect the physical labor his forefathers endured. This humility made MLK’s front line stance second nature. He was willing to sit in a damn city jail in a racist ass southern city, innocent as a baby. He was willing to rent an apartment on the West Side of Chicago amidst the Movement. All I can envision is Bigger Thomas’ family apartment in Native Son. Yikes. He also ultimately gave his life to the cause. Please refer to the first few lines of the paragraph if you need a refresher. MLK could’ve stayed in his lane and enjoyed the best life a Black man in America could enjoy outside of being the heavyweight champion of the world. He would have also inherited his dad’s considerable political influence (another way both MLK and JFK are inevitably intertwined). He could have played the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. role and caked off until he stepped away from the spotlight or people grew tired of his antics. He chose the righteous path. He did it for us. He knew that it would one day lead to his demise, yet he pressed on. And he did it nonviolently. “Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9).
On this celebration of MLK (we also celebrate his real born day, 1.15), it’s a must that I play Game’s “Letter to the King” featuring Nasir Jones. Of course, it’s an homage to MLK. Both men spoke really serious on the song. And of course, the GOAT Nasir blew my brain to bits for the ten thousandth time. He talked about how he once viewed MLK as weak because of his nonviolent beliefs but came to realize that MLK was the first Braveheart (the name of his OTHER rap group). The more he learned about life, the more he realized how much courage it takes to choose not to react with violence. That’s a concept that’s hard for a young man to fathom. I know because I once thought along similar lines. I can’t forget about Game. He left me with something I’ve pondered since the first time I heard the song. We generally think of what losing MLK meant to us, to Black America. Now redirect that thought to how Sister Coretta felt, having lost her husband, her partner, her best friend, her king. With a single shot she became a single mother of three. I’m a leave y’all with actual bars from the Compton MC to marinate further on. Y’all be cool how y’all be cool. We love you Dr. King. We always will.
“I feel the pain of Nelson Mandela, cuz when it rains it pours. I need Rhianna’s umbrella for Coretta Scott’s tear drops, when she got the phone call that the future just took a fucking head shot…I wonder why Jesse Jackson ain’t catch him before his body dropped. Would he give me the answer? Prolly not.”