I started thinking this morning that Martin Luther King Day for me and others that lived through the events that are being honored today somehow has more meaning than it does for those who have just read about it or watched old new footage of the events leading up to his death. Thus who were alive in those days remember the context of the events that we now memorialize. We remember the nightly news casts showing black protest marchers being attacked by police dogs and being dragged away by police officers. We remember the speeches and the great gathering on the Washington Mall. The memory of Martin Luther King being shot at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968, also provokes memories of where we were and what we were doing five years earlier on the day that President Kennedy was shot, Friday, November 22, 1963, at 12:30 p.m. in Dallas, Texas. It also will be forever linked in our minds to the fatal shooting of Bobby Kennedy just two months later. Those were tumultuous times.
I’m not trying to say that those who weren’t there can’t have an appreciation of the events, the people involved and the consequences that followed; just that they will forever see it from a different perspective from those who lived through those times. It is less abstract and more personally meaningful, if one can recall how it affected us at the time.
History is also full of great breakthroughs and inventions that can leave one wondering how we ever got by before those things were available to us. Some diseases that were a fact of life back then are almost unheard of today and medical science has advanced so much that survival of what were life ending events is now possible. Even as we take these things for granted today, it is possible to look back and wonder about “the good old days.” How did we make it through those days?
Our nest big parade of the year in Milford is the Memorial Day parade in May. I have watched from my spot in the Viet Nam Veterans group of marchers as the ranks of WWII and the Korean War thinned over time. I have few, if any, personal memories of those days, although I was born during WWII. I do recall Harry Thurman and Dwight Eisenhower as the first two Presidents, of whom I was aware. I remember the glow of the short-lived Camelot Presidency of Kennedy and the turmoil of the Viet Nam War years. Those years provided the backdrop for the emergence of the civil rights movement and the leadership role that Dr. King played in that movement. They led up to my own time serving in Viet Nam at the turn of that decade.
So, Martin Luther King Day for me brings back a torrent of memories and images and emotions from my past. The day does not pass quietly by, unnoticed. It is not something abstract to me; it is something that I lived through and that has more meaning. I will go to the MLK Day parade in Milford later today. It will be cold, as it always is this time of year. As I march, I will be reliving the memories of not just a day; but, of an era in our history at once brilliant in the ideals that it sparked and sad in the aftermath of the attempts to douse those hopes and dreams. Yes MLK’s dream is alive, but so too are the dreams of JFK and RFK and the many others of that era who envisioned a brighter future in America for all of its citizens.
Maybe I’ll see you there.