As I was going through my mom's things, I found a tissue-thin carbon copy of a letter my dad had written on April 8, 1968 (six days before I was born), to Sue and Jon, my older sister and brother. They were 18 and 16 at the time, just about the same age difference between my older kids and my baby, and lived in New Jersey with their mom. The letter touches upon Martin Luther King, Jr.'s death, so it feels appropriate to share part of it today:
This has been the most dramatic week of historical and political events I can recall. Starting with President Johnson's announcement that he will not run, Hanoi's apparent change of heart about talks and Martin Luther King's tragic death and the even more tragic senseless rioting, each day could fill an entire history book.I love seeing my dad's optimism here, and while it gives me some sadness to know our culture hasn't moved forward as much as he must have hoped it would, we have made and will continue to make strides. I know what a thrill it was for my dad, who supervised segregated troops during WWII, to see Barack Obama get elected.
Even Dr. King's murder carries with it a sense of hope because it gives the black and white communities their one big chance to work together with common spirit. I hope we as whites don't flub it.
Perhaps it's only the flush of excitement from these events, but I detect the beginnings of a new sense of morality and loyalty swelling upon the land. I think Sen. McCarthy's candidacy touched it off and Pres. Johnson's announcement helped to build up a momentum. Now with Dr. King's death and a chance to use his martyrdom as a rallying point, good things could start happening.
I loved getting to know more of MLK's history as I researched My Life with the Lincolns. Just as I, like my character Mina, thought my dad was Lincoln reincarnated, I also used to think that maybe a little bit of Dr. King got into me when I was born, 10 days after his death. Not his whole soul--maybe just a few atoms of it. I don't believe that anymore, but I would like to live as if it's true.
The Chicago Freedom Movement, which Mina and her father get involved with in 1966, ended up being a bit of a disappointment for Dr. King; he wasn't able to bring open housing to the city quite the way he had hoped. I'm sure, however, that the Fair Housing Act wouldn't have been passed two years later (sadly, a week after MLK's assassination, so he never saw it come to pass) if it hadn't been for him and the Chicago Freedom Movement campaign. This inspires me to keep pushing for change, even when, maybe especially when, it seems impossible. We have a chance to make a difference--in my dad's 42 year old words, let's not flub it.