By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — Where were you on Aug. 28, 1963?
If you’re a Boomer or beyond, it’s one of those iconic days from the 1960s that are forever etched on your soul, like the moon landing on July 20, 1969, or those horrible days that seemed to dash the dreams of an entire generation: Nov. 22, 1963, and April 4 and June 5, 1968, the dates of the assassinations of the legendary leaders we came to know by their initials: JFK, MLK, RFK.
But Aug. 28, 1963, was a happier time, a day of enlightenment, hope, inspiration and transformation: the day that thousands gathered in Washington, D.C., to hear Martin Luther King, Jr. deliver his “I have a dream” speech.
Lola Lestrick said she will ask everybody to pause and remember where they were the day of that historic gathering, when she is M.C. at the Doña Ana Branch NAACP’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast at 7:30 a.m. Jan. 19 at Days Inn and Suites. (Today’s the deadline for reservations: see the story on this page for more information.)
Lestrick has vivid memories of her own to share: “I was at Holoman Air Force Base sitting up close to the TV,” she said, and the feelings of hope the speech evoked had an intensity that came again in 2008.
“I remember that back then, I just wasn’t that interested in politics, I guess. Before that, I thought they were all just politicians. But then, after hearing Dr. King, I had more hope than I ever had,” said Lestrick, who’s 76.
The breakfast’s keynote speaker, McKinley Boston, also recalls the speech as a life-changing moment.
“I remember it well. My recollections and life lessons learned are very, very vivid. I grew up in the South, in North Carolina, in a time of whites-only drinking fountains and segregated movie theaters where whites sat on the bottom and blacks sat above. I was arrested for marching in a civil rights demonstration,” said Boston, 62.
The speech was a goosebump-inducing, rejuvenating moment for those of us at the height of the Baby Boom generation, who were just entering adolescence when John F. Kennedy was shot.
We learned early on that the times, they were a-changing ... and that the changes could come at a very high price.
Much is made of the new Millennium generation being the “first” to face terrorists invading America, but of course, that’s not true at all.
Those who fought for change, whatever our race, creed or color, learned that terrorists could be in our own backyard, in our committees, our schools, even next door or in our own homes.
Many remember the 1960s as a decade of rage: an uprising by many groups who have suffered centuries of oppression, discrimination and assorted forms of historic terrorism, from American Indians and Black descendants of slaves to migrant farm workers, women, gays, the poor and others. A caldron of anger boiled up and over. There were blackened cities and shootings of protesting college students, civil right leaders and others who dared to say “no” to the status quo and say “why not?” to dreams of justice and equality.
King was that rare soul who was both an idealist and a realist. He bemoaned a society that spawned “guided missiles and misguided men,” but also stressed our common goals and destiny.
“We may have all come on different ships, but we're in the same boat now,” he said.
“Wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows. We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war but the positive affirmation of peace.”
Through it all, King held firm to the principles of non-violent resistance and activism. He was resolute and dedicated. Many of his most inspiriting quotes contain the words “spiritual” and “love” and he stressed that morality and integrity are crucial components of any change that is lasting.
“A nation or civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on the installment plan,” he said. “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that,” he opined. “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”
Creativity is another concept that shows up in King’s quotes and his life path.
“Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted,” he quipped. “Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better,” he believed. “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”
He stressed that the process of change takes deep thought, dedication and hard work.
“Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think. Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable ... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”
Many of King’s writings show he had a firm grasp of what changes were coming, and his own possible fate: “I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the promised land! I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land.”
He left behind a legacy of wisdom that seems very timely indeed, based on principles that are timeless. As King noted: “The time is always right to do what is right.”
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at email@example.com