Should Black History Month Be Eliminated? That question gets asked every year around this time of year, when we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Some people go so far as to argue that if we don’t have a White History Month, then it isn’t “fair” to have a Black History Month. Others quickly point out that every month is White History Month in the USA, and the debate sooner or later goes away until the next year comes around…
My purpose today is to look at the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by looking at his death. I know that is a paradox, to examine a man’s life by looking at his death. Nonetheless, I recall three eulogies of Dr. King: 1. Dr. King “spoke” at his own funeral, effectively eulogizing himself. 2. The famous Robert F. Kennedy announcement of Dr. King’s assassination, and 3. the little known eulogy of Dr. King by David Dinkins.(???)
The question immediately arises: Who is David Dinkins? The obvious answer is that that is the reason why we have Black History Month, not to remember Dr. King. If we lived until we could not remember anything but only one thing, from here to eternity, that one thing would be Dr. King. He is unforgettable for all time, for all of humanity.
David Dinkins, on the other hand, runs the risk of being forgotten, for he was but a mortal man. In his life, however, he did become the first (and only) African American Mayor of New York City, elected in 1989 (1 term in office,1990-1993). I wonder how many people living outside of New York City today know that?
So I would argue that Black History Month is a vehicle for discovery, to discover the David Dinkins of our history, on the one hand, and to honor the legacy, not only of Dr. King, but the legacy of a people whose history did not begin in 1619 in Virginia. We go way back, to a time and place in history in which we were Kings and Queens, rulers of empires, scientists and artists, statesmen and warriors. Black History goes way back, even before the time of recorded history.
The American chapter of Black History indeed began in August, 1619, when “20 and odd” Africans first “arrived” in America, not aboard a Dutch ship as reported by John Rolfe, but an English warship, White Lion, sailing with a letters of marque issued to the English Captain Jope by the Protestant Dutch Prince Maurice, son of William of Orange. A letters of marque legally permitted the White Lion to sail as a privateer attacking any Spanish or Portuguese ships it encountered.
The 20 and odd Africans were captives removed from the Portuguese slave ship, San Juan Bautista, following an encounter the ship had with the White Lion and her consort, the Treasurer, another English ship, while attempting to deliver its African prisoners to Mexico. Rolfe’s reporting the White Lion as a Dutch warship was a clever ruse to transfer blame away from the English for piracy of the slave ship to the Dutch…
As you can see, re-visiting historical accounts helps you to have clarity about the facts, but also, allows the passage of time to deliver a less passionate, more objective judgement about people and events that transpired at a past moment in history.
For me, it’s like watching a movie you have already seen before. For instance, I watched “Titanic” seven (7) times, (the movie was so emotionally evocative), and each and every time I saw the movie, I noticed something different. I left each viewing with a different reflection. Beauty, love, dedication, destiny, hope, hopelessness, fate, justice, discrimination, class, chivalry, survival and the triumph of the human soul over adversity, yes, all of these things and more made their ways to my consciousness on each successive viewing.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I submit to you that Black History Month is no different. Today, for the first time in 55 years, I discover who David Dinkins was (the 106th Mayor of New York City), what he did with his life, and this amazing rhetorical rendition of a eulogy for Dr. Martin Luther King. If I discover nothing else new during this celebration of Black History Month 2018, I am more than compensated by having found this brilliant eulogy to share with you…
Martin Luther King is dead now, and we, the mourners and losers, are left with his dreams—with decisions to make. He is dead now, and there are no words we can say for him, for he said his own. He is dead now, and any eulogy must be for us, the living.
Martin Luther King is dead now, so for him there is no tomorrow on this earth. But for us there are tomorrows and tomorrows. He painted a picture of what our tomorrows could be in his dream of America. This past weekend painted a picture of how that dream could become a nightmare should we lose sight of his principles.
Martin Luther King is dead now, but he left a legacy. He planted in all of us, black and white, the seeds of love of justice, of decency, of honor, and we must not fail to have these seeds bear fruit.
Martin Luther King is dead now, and there is only time for action. The time for debate, the time for blame, the time for accusation is over. Ours is a clear call to action. We must not only dedicate ourselves to great principles, but we must apply those principles to our lives.
Martin Luther King is dead now, and he is because he dared believe in nonviolence in a world of violence. Because he dared believe in peace in a world of conflict. He is dead now because he challenged all of us to believe in his dream.
Martin Luther King is dead now, and we cannot allow the substance of his dream to turn into the ashes of defeat. If we are to build a tribute to what he stood for, we must, each of us, stand for the same things.
Martin Luther King is dead now, and I ask each of you, the living, to join him and me, to go from this room and keep the dream alive.
We must now commit ourselves, we must now work, we must now define what kind of America we are going to have—for unless we make his dream a reality we will not have an America about which to decide.
Martin Luther King is dead now—but he lives.