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I cannot help but think of the great hymn, “We Shall Overcome”, sung so frequently at civil rights marches in the ’60’s. It brings a lump to my throat, not just because marchers were often treated violently, but because they had the fortitude, faith, and moral character to demonstrate peacefully. What a leader they had in Dr. Martin Luther King. Not a perfect man, but a perfect man for the job and the times.

Were all the marches peaceful? No, even if the marchers were, often violence was instigated by law enforcement under the direction of the city, the state, the governors — those who are charged with keeping the peace, except when it came to blacks marching en masse, including many white supporters.

In some ways, those were the best of times. When has a cause been so morally justified? When have people demonstrated without resorting to violence, name-calling, or destruction of property? When has prayer, in this non-religious establishment country, been used more effective and forcefully.

I have the privilege of having seen all this during my teenage years. I would not want to have missed witnessing just change come about. Being from Ohio, I did not know the level of segregation and the feelings behind it, that existed in many parts of the South. And I’m glad I didn’t. Imagine being brought up to hate, to disparage other people without consequence, even to kill without proper legal force being brought to bear on the crime. Justice was served, if not immediately, at least in law by 1965. You do not change people’s hearts and minds overnight, so the fight took longer, and in may ways continued peacefully. As Dr. King said (below), “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Some groups wanted violence, but Dr. King always said no to that, and the heinous ending of his life just showed where violence and hatred reap.

These people overcome first their righteous anger, their hatred of whites who had held them in their places for generations in order to overcome on a much larger scale — forcing laws and a legal acceptance which has led to equality.

I will not defend my remark on equality; I know that many feel that racism is still alive and active. I personally question this, and believe that when people come together peacefully and legally, they stand on an equal footing. No amount of legislation will make us hate or love, or wipe out discrimination of all kinds.

When we are individually and collectively able to overcome our own prejudices, biases, and the further ahead we will move in making this a truly free country, one in which all are judged “not by the color of their skin, but the content of their character.”

 

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