Stay on the Bus … January 21, 2013

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Martin Luther King Jr.Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., had a problem. The bus line in his local community had begun to raise a fuss about carrying the colored folks of the town. There were so many reasons for the conflict that it’s difficult to explain–but basically, Rev. King was a Negro minister in a municipality which believed in and practiced “separate but equal.” Racial mixing was frowned on except in the exchange of cordial, but brief, greetings in the marketplace.

The problem the young minister faced was that some of his congregation wanted to rebel and object to the lack of equality and respect given to the Negro community. But most of the folks just wanted to get along. They saw no particular reason, after all these years of struggle and winning significant improvements, to anger the white community over such a silly, little issue as transportation. But he was also aware of the power he possessed among his people as a member of the clergy. They would more than likely move out in any direction he deemed righteous.

He prayed about it. After he prayed, he decided that the true wisdom of God was to use discretion and humility instead of demanding acceptance, which would only be viewed as arrogant. He negotiated a deal with the bus company to allow the colored folks, who sat in the rear, to redecorate that particular portion of the bus to suit their culture and liking. The bus company thought it was an odd request but couldn’t see any reason why allowing the Negroes to do what they wanted to on the bus, within reason, should be denied–since no white person would step back there anyway.

Matter of fact, Rev. King sold the concept to his flock under the banner, “Redecorate Our Lives.” In other words, rather than fighting against society, requiring respect, his suggestion was that the colored community establish their uniqueness and the beauty of their culture, and therefore become a testimony through cooperation. It was a roaring success. The white community was happy because things were let alone, and the Negroes felt they had achieved a compromise, which allowed them to retain some dignity of their own.

Rev. King became so popular that he was asked to head a confluence of black educators who became consultants for Congress in Washington, D.C. Although the body of legislators continued to be predominately white, this gathering of leaders from the Negro community was permitted to input ideas on how to make race relations better across the country. In fact, Rev. King was one of the founders of the NCFL–the National Colored Football League, which he proudly touted often had greater attendance in their stadiums than the nearly all-white National Football League.

Oh, there were some downs with the ups. Martin was not pleased that the music and arts scene, never integrated, failed to blend the sounds of gospel, blues and jazz into the mainstream of the pop music scene. But most of the Negro artists were able to etch out a living among their darker brothers and sisters.

Probably Rev. King’s proudest accomplishment was his “Back to Black” campaign, begun in the late 1970’s, to take American families on pilgrimages to Africa, similar to the Muslims returning to Mecca or the Jews to Jerusalem.

Separate but equal” remained the law of the land but gradually was beginning to resemble equality more than just separation. Race relations were fine unless a few trouble-makers came along rocking the boat, insisting that the forefathers’ concept of all men being created equal was an inclusive concept MEANT to promote integration.

Although Rev. King was sympathetic to their feelings, he warned them that fighting against the general opinion of the population was not going to bring peace and contentment, but rather, a forced situation of interaction, which ultimately would only produce anger and resentment.

He was successful in calming the turmoil. He was well-respected within the black community and considered to be a healing force among the whites.

While attending a convention in Atlanta in 1992, he was preparing to give a speech when he had a heart attack and died. The topic of his last presentation was to be, “Separate but equal–thank God Almighty, at last.”

You see, this very easily could have been the story of the man. He would have lived longer, he would have been more accepted and he would never have had a bullet pierce his neck and bleed out on the balcony of a cheap motel in Memphis, Tennessee.

But everything we are today–all progress we’ve made, every idea of justice and every possibility of interaction, while looking each other directly in the eye, would be pure mythology. Dr. King wrestled with two Presidents to secure the civil rights legislation that steers the ship of social justice.

Yet we live in a generation which advocates “staying on the bus” instead of boycotting the corporation because of its unfair practices. We are civilized; we are rational and we are just … damned boring.

Remember today–one man had to make one choice. Do I find a way to work with the system? Or do I declare that system filthy, evil, and fight against it–willing to give my life?

Think about it.

Then–when it’s your turn–this time, don’t compromise.

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