Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Power of One: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

We sit on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the assassination of one the world's greatest pacifists, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

As much as his words could move, they were prescient. "I refuse to accept the idea that the 'isness' of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the 'oughtness' that forever confronts him" were the words spoken from the podium as he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo in 1964. Action now. Tip the paradigm. Who knows, 44 years from now an African-American could be in prime position to be the Democratic nominee for President of the United States.

To say that Dr. King impacted the course of a nation is trite. We all know it. We all see it,and feel it; we know there's work still to be done.

The Sacramento Public Library offers a number of different resources covering the life of the Dr. King and his accomplishments. The quote from above was located in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, a fantastic source of the best said things. It has a keyword index in the back and an alphabetical speaker index in the front.

The April 5, 1968, Sacramento Bee, the issue covering the day after Dr. King's death, is accessible on the 3rd floor at Central Library. Accordingly, consider what the mood of our city was upon hearing that dreaded news from Memphis? There was a candlelight vigil held at the 'City Plaza' on 9th and "I" Streets to mourn. Present was the park's future namesake and labor leader Cesar Chavez who had been slated to speak at Our Lady of Guadlupe Church on 7th and "T" Streets. According to the Bee,

"The crowd began assembling around 8 o'clock, in small knots at first. Soon someone appeared with boxes of candles and they were lighted. As others arrived, they lit candles too, until perhaps 200 of them winked like fireflies along the walks of the park...many wore tears openly, unabashed, like sparkling jewels of sorrow."

"They began a solemn march around the park, softly singing 'We Shall Overcome' in a biting wind that kept snuffing out the candles."

"A woman lamented: 'It keeps going out.' And George Choung, Negro Leader of the Sacramento Youth Congress said: 'Don't worry about that, lady. A brighter light than that went out today.' Later Choung mounted one of the park tables and said: 'A man of peace was killed today, but when you kill a man of peace 10,000 warriors spring up to take his place for every finger on his hands."

In the immediate wake of Dr. King's death - in this case the next day - the City decided to name one of its proposed branches (to be built at 24th Street and the 24th Street Bypass), the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library. According to the article, "Construction [was] expected to begin late this year or early next year."

On the 6th of April, an astonishing 4,000 persons marched from Del Paso Heights to the state Capitol, while from Sacramento City College (the future CSUS), 1,700 students marched to the same destination to eulogize the memory of the fallen leader.

In the Bee on the 6th, a small blurb on page C1, headlined "Heartsick Woman," proved that - for many - the death of Dr. King, was a life-changing event: "A woman who identified herself as white phoned the Bee with a break in her voice and asked: 'Can you please give me the name of a Negro organization in town-any organization. I've been so prejudiced and now I'm heartsick. I want them to know.'"

We've all heard of the Gallup Poll. For years, it's made tracking the behavior of the nation its business. Who did Americans - in 1964 - admire the most? Dr. King made the top ten list, coming in at #4. What did Americans think of protest efforts of African-Americans in the 1960s insofar as whether they helped or hurt the cause of equality? As of 1964, 74 percent thought it hurt. Also, White Americans were asked whether or not they would move if a black family moved next door. In 1967, 65 percent said 'no.' Are you interested in what Americans - in 1967 - thought of Dr. King as a potential candidate for President of the U.S.? You'll have to visit the Central Library to see the results. The Central Library has these polling results in its multi-volume set of the Poll.

Behold the power of your library as way to better understand the evolution of American tolerance. Also, visit us to learn more about a man that gave everything to advance that evolution.

1 comment:

Sarah Dentan said...

This is great - I'm so glad to see the library's resources leveraged in this moving and relevant way.