There Are Still Reasons to Mourn Martin Luther King Jr.

On the anniversary of his murder, reasons for tears remain as long as the rhetoric of enraged prejudice persists

As if it were yesterday, I remember the day that MartinLuther King Jr. died, the victim of a gunshot wound inflicted outsidethe Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn. I still today feel the nausea and angerthat pulsated through my body on that eerie April 4 evening 32 years ago.

Like King, I am a child of the South. I, too, found ahome in the Baptist tradition of spirituality. Back then I wept not onlyfor King and his family but also for our society.

I shudder as I remember the hate-filled, dehumanizing names thatwere flung like poison-tipped darts at King. "Uppity black," some calledhim, or "corrupt agitator," "senseless troublemaker," or worse. Evenindividuals who had never met the man spat venomous words at his mention,as if poking pins in a voodoo doll hoping to do him harm.

Such vitriolic, hate-laced language is toxic to the environment. Itcan prompt a clenched fist to slam against someone's jaw, or a triggerfinger to release a deadly bullet. Words feed attitudes that driveactions. Today I remember a vibrant leader left lifeless on a motelbalcony.

Reasons for tears remain. The rhetoric of enraged prejudicepersists. People shout at one another, "bleeding-heart liberals,""narrow-minded fundamentalists," "religious fanatics," "godlessatheists" and more.

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We make it easy for individuals to find guns that turn their bigotry into personal tragedy and social chaos. We continue to kill both the best and the worst among us. We still parochialize justice and jeopardize the very rights and responsibilities that preserve liberty. We despise the pluralism that gives richness and promise to our nation. How long, how long?

Hate hurts at best; at worst, it kills. Of course, no law can eliminate hate. But in an environment of paranoid prejudices, laws can make it difficult for hate-filled people to translate their dark sentiments into violence. We need those laws.

I am pleased that our nation celebrates Martin Luther King's birth. But we will do well to also remember his death. A recollection of that sad day can prompt an honest recognition of a society still in need of substantive change. Almost imperceptibly my memories of the past take on the nature of a prayer, a prayer that pleads for a time when no one nods at prejudice, tolerates violence or respects hatred.

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C. Welton Gaddy
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