I met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in a small wooden sunroom off the side of our home in an even smaller Mississippi town.
Like many, the death of Dr. King occurred either early in our lives or before we were brought into this world. But getting to know someone through their writings and words can be a powerful journey.
Living in a modest community struggling to support two grocery stores at the same time, my wife and our two kids lived a year or so in a town where the horizon was defined by tall pine trees and one-syllable words were routinely stretched into two. People were equally modest, polite, and somewhat distant to anyone who was not born within the state let alone the city limits. My wife, a Texan by birth and me a Midwesterner, found ourselves at the time living in a shadow dimension where words and gestures many times never quite lined up. But we loved it all the same as if a door to curious culture had been left ajar just enough for us to peek in and look around.
At the time, in 1998, the autobiography of King was released. I’d grown up in a relatively quiet suburban life that could be transplanted to numerous other cities across the nation without any real material difference. But walking the streets and listening for the unspoken so carefully laced between those used in a small traditional southern town proved revealing.
The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. is a remarkable collection of interviews, recordings, correspondences, and other archival materials. His unvarnished words, unpolished and raw with emotion took me on a life-changing journey.
Racism is an ugly side of the human condition. No one with a heart or decency can honestly justify nor support of the practice. Furthermore, this human condition exists throughout both time and cultures around the globe. A universal scab on mankind not contained by borders or laws.
But sitting in the small sunroom off our home in Mississippi, pine trees whispering outside the window panes, I listened to Dr. King’s words as they came off the pages and into my soul. The pain, the injustice, the strength in character to never lose sight of the bigger picture, the longer goal. I hurt for him. There is nothing more powerful than reading the actual words penned by the originator as if sitting next to them. King’s voice is true, the emotion immediate, a powerful connection fusing between you and King. You cannot help but be changed.
Dr. King’s words and writings forever changed how I would look view the world. Sitting in the small room, I felt as if a rotating kaleidoscope of images and emotions fell into place – one forever solidifying and intensifying my instinct of measuring others based on their character and contributions to others, rather than the color of their skin, religious beliefs, or even small patch of dirt the found themselves entering this life on planet earth.
Thank you, Dr. King.