National Civil Rights Museum

Early morning, April 4
Shot rings out in the Memphis sky

"Pride (In The Name Of Love)"

Actually, it was 6:01 PM. Not that we’d expect Irishmen to get it right.

Not that we’d expect Americans to get it right, certainly not white Americans.

I was sitting at my desk, doing my algebra homework, transistor by my blotter blaring WABC when the broadcast was interrupted, stating Martin Luther King, Jr. had been killed in Memphis.

And I remember our rabbi leaving the temple to go down south to be a freedom rider. The sixties were a time of tumult, but much of it happened down south, off the radar, when I was small. We saw it on television, but when you go to the National Civil Rights Museum, you see it up close and personal.

It’s in the Lorraine Motel. Where Martin Luther King, Jr. was cut down. With a garish multicolored sign and two stories, the edifice screams nothing so much as SIXTIES! And that was a long time ago, when African-Americans chided that there could never be a black President.

Oh, how far we’ve come.

But not far enough.

Racism is still rampant. Barack Obama is the new Jackie Robinson, the new MLK, because he refuses to fight back, to the taunts essentially calling him BOY! I don’t care if you agree with his politics or not, they’d never treat a white President this way, nor have they. Jan Brewer getting in his face, after saying she felt threatened by him? If you don’t think the vocal right hates Obama because he’s black, you’re ignorant.

Still, the younger generation is different. Because of MTV. That’s what changed their perception. Seeing different colors on television, different sexual persuasions. That’s a point they make over and over again in the museum, that images count, that they change public opinion.

And what the corporations and government hate most now is we, the public, own the Internet. We’ve finally got a voice. We’re upending the edifice. It may be playing out in cyberspace as opposed to the streets, but the message is just as powerful.

That’s what SOPA was all about.

That’s what posting a mashup on YouTube is all about.

We’re fighting for freedom. They say we’re renegades, disruptors, that we don’t respect rights. It’s barely different from black sanitation workers staging a strike over working conditions. Did you know the white workers got compensated when it rained and the blacks were sent home without pay?

That’s what instigated the strike, that’s why Martin Luther King, Jr. was in Memphis. The mayor said the strike was illegal. Who won?

Who won when Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of the bus?

Who won when James Meredith decided to enroll in Ole Miss?

Who won when the black community refused to ride the bus in Selma, FOR AN ENTIRE YEAR!

Individuals beget change. It starts with just one. That’s what’s wrong with the younger generation, that’s where the baby boomers have it right, the older generation is willing to act individually, the youngsters need the affirmation of the group.

The group comes last. Free thinkers step out, and when they’re right, people fall in place behind.

It’s no different in music. What we’ve got is a bunch of me-too Top Forty junk. Everyone’s afraid to do something new. Except for those producing indie crap, clamoring for attention. You’ve got to create something UNDENIABLE!

So I’m tracking through the exhibits when I come across a group of school children, with a docent telling the story.

And I was stunned to find out how little I knew. This is not only their history, but mine. I’m an American.

But Black History Month is the shortest one of the year. And the average person has got no idea who George Washington Carver is, never mind Booker T. Washington. They think Marcus Garvey is the patron saint of marijuana, they’ve got no idea he went to jail for advocating for black power.

And on the balcony a square of concrete has been removed, the one that contained Martin Luther King’s blood. He shed it for you. Both black and white. He had a dream that all men are created equal, that we all deserve equal rights.

The right to a good education, the right to a job.

But the rich and the racist want to leave the poor behind. Saying it’s their own damn fault. That they just need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, just like they did.

But how many of them were born rich? How many of them had parents who helped them do their homework?

Incredible progress was made in the sixties.

Incredible progress needs to be made today.

Let these icons of the past be our beacon.

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