Bay Reflection

He Had a Dream ...
that there be dialogue, not a monologue

Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968)

by M.L. Faunce

I don't recall walking to work on the spring morning of April 4, 1968, but I remember everything about the trip home. Government workers in Washington, D.C. were dismissed from their jobs in the early afternoon. As I left the office, black youths raced past me in the opposite direction with frenetic urgency, toward downtown - where smoke billowed from businesses and shops.

After news broke that afternoon of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, long-simmering racial unrest ignited a firestorm of rioting met with orders of "shoot to kill." The status quo on race relations would never be the same again, and the scene played out that day would come to symbolize the epitome of the tumultuous civil rights struggles of the 1960's.

As we approach the 30th anniversary of Rev. King's death, I've wondered what this legendary civil rights leader would say about the recent call for a national dialogue on race relations.

The man who embraced nonviolent protest never shied away from controversy or his mission for racial justice. Back in the '60s, even some of his fellow clergyman charged that King's acts of civil disobedience were unwise and untimely. King responded by defending passive resistance through sit-ins, marches and demonstrations. To his detractors, this son, grandson and great-grandson of preachers explained: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

In April of 1968, after King's assassination, the city of Washington was under curfew. National Guardsmen lined the streets, and military tanks defended entrances to the city. The city under siege was held hostage to the fears and anxieties and injustices of our own past.

One day during the crisis while riding a bus downtown, I recall the irony of passing the White House as guardsmen lined the streets. Racially mixed passengers sat on the bus in stony, awkward silence. When the bus lurched, momentarily throwing everyone off guard, a meaningful dialogue of sorts followed. No one spoke, but the understanding gestures, small smiles of acknowledgment, tiny breathes of relief exhaled - all spoke volumes.

This silent dialogue by eye contact seemed to confirm the quiet realization of a group of ordinary citizens: "We are in this together, and we will get through this together."

The night of the assassination, Sen. Robert Kennedy tried to console the grieving nation. "What we need in the United States," he said, "is love and wisdom and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our own country, whether they be white or black."

Racial injustice has been a difficult mantle to shed. Yet for the most part, this nation, and we as a people, have moved well beyond those dark days of the 1960s and earlier decades of slavery and oppression. Yet no one would deny that for some, old feelings still smolder. If we have made progress, perhaps it is because enough of us heeded Dr. King's plea to recognize the "interrelatedness of all communities and states."

Would Martin Luther King Jr. join the cry for a national dialogue on racism today?

As Time's Man of the Year in 1963, King said: "Too long has our beloved land been bogged down in the tragic attempt to live in monologue rather than dialogue.

We can join the dialogue in our own way. A meaningful exchange can be more than words. Actions, kind gestures, simple courtesy, even an understanding nod can say a whole lot, as well.

After all, we have a common bond - if we believe "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."


This is one of an occasional series reflecting on anniversaries of 1968.

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Volume VI Number 12
March 26 - April 1, 1998
New Bay Times

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