Two Cincinnati Kids — and a Very Great Man

by marthastephens

ellen and katherine

Katherine and Ellen of Cincinnati


         HERE WE ARE well into the year 2015, my friends, and as you may or may not have noticed, I’ve not spoken to you in a good many weeks.  I’m still at work on my book Me and the Grandmas of Baghdad, a work of conscience, to so to speak, but today I seem to need your company.  

If you know me, you may know the kids in this photo and that one happens to be related to me.  But what do these two have to do with “a very great man”?  Perhaps you’ve guessed that they represent for me one of the legacies of Dr. Martin Luther King.  Katherine on the left and Ellen on the right, my granddaughter, have been best friends ever since they met five years ago at Nativity School in Pleasant Ridge in Cincinnati.  They are rather like sisters and take turns sleeping over in each other’s homes.  Last summer they each went on vacation with a single-parent dad, and succeeded in meeting up for a few days in Tucson!  

I need hardly say that I myself, growing up in Waycross, Georgia, never had a little friend like Katherine here.  I knew no one at all among the African-American children who lived across town from me.  They were only a dark mystery in my life.  Today I live in a mixed neighborhood of Cincinnati.  We’re about half black or  mixed race, as Katherine is, and half white, and in Paddock Hills we’re hardly aware who’s which or what any more!  You’d enjoy being with us, Martin Luther King!MLK


 King and the Die-ins of Today

IF HE WERE ALIVE today, this man would love our Die-ins, don’t you think?  He’d be happy, too, with a certain grave contention that we’re all hearing these days: Black Lives Matter!  He’d rejoice greatly, I believe, in our crusade to stop the enslavement of black people in prisons!   

I believe he’d enjoy the brave actions of food workers around the country as they fight for a living wage.  The Economic Policy Institute tells us that 56% of U. S. workers earning the minimum wage are black or Latino (and over half are women).   

I think King would have supported the great march in New York City last year for the saving of Mama Earth — also the creative actions of Greenpeace in Cincinnati for protecting a rainforest from the predations of P&G.  

Indeed, we can assume that all the non-violent struggle of our time would have moved King deeply. 

Still, I must say that the official ceremonies on MLK Day don’t please me  any more; they seem to me full of pap and non-speak.  The man they celebrate is not the radical one I revere.

                             Martin Luther King and War 

IN HIS LAST YEARS, after all, King spoke out against the Vietnam War and all wars, and he would have opposed the massive conflict we are building now to combat ISIS in Iraq and Syria.  He would know that it was us who created ISIS — nobody but us! — and that our presence in the Middle East never brings anything but more violence to this fractured world.  Let’s provide aid to the refugees and keep our drones out of the picture.  

Of course, King would be saddened by the attacks on 9.11, and those in Boston, Paris, and elsewhere, but he would see, I believe, these assaults for what they are: blowback, simply that.  Blowback against us and our allies for the vast horde of innocent Muslims who have died under our bombs and artillery.  

He would remind us that people in Iraq will never forget the U. S. massacre in Fallujah, in the ruined city of Baghdad, and that until we and our allies become a force for peace and cooperation in the world, we cannot be safe!

  King and the Dream That Would Not Die! 

YOU KNOW the story, my friends, but let’s remember it always.  In 1968 King walked at the front of the march of the sanitation workers of Memphis — yes, he wanted people to be organized — and the next day he was shot to death.  

He was a young man, only 38 years old.  That night, after the march, he spoke his last words to the people.  “I Still Have a Dream,” he said.  

“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life . . . longevity has is place, but I’m not concerned about that now.  I just want to do God’s will, and he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain.  And I’ve looked over — 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!  So I’m happy tonight.  I’m not worried about anything.  I’m not fearing any man.  Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” 

                            A Walk In Las Cruces, New Mexico 

THREE YEARS AGO, I walked on MLK Day with people in Las Cruces, New Mexico.  In that town there are many more Hispanics than black people.  Our march ended before a small union hall, and we were all handed copies of this great speech — I Still Have a Dream — in both Spanish and English, and we recited the entire speech in both languages, line by line.  I loved that!  

I don’t know how to do diacritical marks, but I must  quote you, even so, a few lines of this wonderful speech.  You can probably make it out even if you don’t know Spanish.  Sueno means “dream.”

Yo aun tengo un sueno, amigos mios.  Es un sueno profundamente enraizado (rooted) en el sueno Americano  . . . que todos los hombres son creados iquales.

If we wish, we can all get on line and read this whole beautiful speech in both languages in line-by-line translations; and today, with our many immigrant friends among us, what is better than that?   ##