Saturday, April 05, 2008

The Death of an American Hero

Forty years ago today Martin Luther King Junior, the American Christian leader, was assassinated in Memphis, Tn. It was a traumatic time. In many cities grief turned to anger and violence. In Indianapolis, however, there was little violence due, some think, to the fact that presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy attending a rally in the inner city told the crowd of Reverend King’s death and stood with them in solidarity. In the city where I lived a similar scene ensued.

Those of us who had been in the marches and protests seeking housing, employment and financial equality for our minority neighbors now went to our inner city to stand together in the solidarity of our shared grief. Opponent argued that doing this was offensive and that we should leave “them” to grieve alone in their own neighborhood. The example of the martyr reminded us God’s recommendation for our solidarity on this day.

“Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.” [Matthew 5:11, NAB]

In comparison to some other large cites our solidarity may have also earned us another blessing.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” [Matthew 5:9]

On the day of Reverend King’s funeral our city leaders planned a public commemoration at a downtown park scheduled for midday. I planned to take a vacation day so that I could participate fully in this event. I discovered, however, that while some of the African American employees wanted to attend but didn’t have the option of an impromptu vacation day as I did as a supervisor. I felt that additional employees might want to attend also. I approached the office manager a proposed that I and those employees that wished to attend the service would be granted an extended lunch break on that day. My status as a supervisor and the boss’s ok would shield the participating employees from any repercussions from peers or union rules. The plan was approved. This exercise in solidarity defused at least somewhat the fears rampant in the community and in our office. The prayers and the eulogies certainly helped us bear our grief.

A few years later I was introduced to an executive of the company. In an effort to place me he asked where I had worked. When I said that I had been a supervisor in city X in 1968 he said, “Oh, your that liberal supervisor that lead a walkout in city X.” This was an example of acting on Christian ideals getting me classified as politically liberal.

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