Let’s take a moment to imagine what it would be like to have been in Dr. King’s posse, his crew. Imagine him rolling through your hometown on his way to his next planned protest, asking to stop by your church and commune with your congregation. Maybe practice his next televised speech. Maybe speak to the members about their grievances. Maybe taste Sister Johnson’s banana pudding. Every one of us, as we sit now in our cushy unearned privilege, would claim that we would have welcomed him with open arms. On this side of history, it’s super easy to think that we would have been down with the movement and open to what was revolutionary at the time (and still is).
But imagine, if you will, the stakes. Dr. King challenged deeply held convictions, which was hard. Those deeply held convictions were codified as law, which was even harder, to say the least. If Dr. King and his people challenged convictions, he was probably breaking the law as well. So, wherever Dr. King found himself, the police found themselves. If he was ready to make some trouble, they were ready to lock him up. And they were ready to lock up the people with him. Even worse were the townspeople (I’m not sure if anyone says townspeople anymore) who stood ready to do all kinds of other, unasked for, unnecessary, extra, stupid, horrible things to Dr. King and his posse.
For these reasons and others, not everyone, not even most people received Dr. King intimately while he was living. Not many people welcomed him into their homes or their churches. They weren’t inviting him to community meetings or even birthday parties. Not many people were willing to take the risk and understandably so. It wasn’t until after Dr. King’s death that he garnered widespread acceptance in the black community.
It makes me wonder what I would’ve done. Would I have welcomed Dr. King? Would I have joined him in a protest or a march? Would I have been publicly disobedient or quietly supportive, nestled safely in my home, secretly hoping that the good side wins? I think about how scared I would’ve been. Truly. Scared for my life and my family’s lives. Scared to be and do something that went so squarely against the status quo. And how ostracized the leaders of that movement must’ve been. How unnormal their lives had to have been and how much of a sacrifice they made.
But then I think of how convinced I am of our (all of us) moral obligation to stand in opposition to any and every kind of oppression perpetrated against people, particularly oppression based on an immutable characteristic such as race.
When I think about the kind of courage that would’ve been required of MLK or other leaders of that movement, it makes me want to level up. I actually don’t think any of us have to ask ourselves what we would have done during the civil rights movement because we’re in a movement as we speak. What we would’ve done then is what we are doing now. And so the question is whether we’re pleased with ourselves. It’s a question I have to ask myself and answer honestly. Am I pleased with my courage, my activism, my service? Do I operate in fear? Am I too scared of what people will think or not assured enough in my ability to contribute? Sometimes being morally right means going against the grain. That’s how I want to live my life. Always searching for and insisting on truth and justice. Let’s level up for Dr. King this year and every year.