Dr. King Reflections by Rick Gillespie- Mobley
Go Back To The Mountaintop
Deuteronomy 34:1-12 Ephesians 6:10-18
Martin Luther King Jr. was first and foremost a preacher of the gospel. Much of his imagery in his messages came from being grounded in the word of God. He uses a lot of the minor prophets imagery for justice, for mercy, and for righteousness. The imagery he uses of having a dream, can be traced to Joseph in the bible having a dream of what the future was going to be like.
In his final public address we find Dr. King saying And I’ve looked over ---, and I’ve seen the Promised Land. --- I may not get there with you. -----But I want you to know tonight, (Yes) that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. ----- And 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.
The imagery of the promised land and the mountain top came directly out of our Old Testament reading in Deuteronomy. God had promised to bring His people out of slavery in Egypt and to lead them to a new promised land where they would find freedom and justice, and a place to call their own.
Moses was God’s appointed leader for the people to make it to the promise land. However Moses stumbled in his leadership and God told him that he would not be able to enter the promised land. When Moses asked God for another chance, God told him, you may go up the mountain and see the promise land, but you will not be able to enter into it. Moses did in fact go up the mountain, and he saw from a distance what God had is store for the people.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had that same experience as Moses in a spiritual sense in that he saw a promised land from where he was standing. It was not just for Black People but for all people, yet knowing in his heart that he would not get to physically enter that land. This year we will observe the 40th anniversary of Dr. King’s death. 40 is a significant number in the Bible in that it often represents a generation.
The children of Israel spent 40 years in the desert because they would not go into the promised land when it was first presented to them. The 40 year period was given in order for all of the fighting soldiers 20 and older who came out of Egypt would perish. A new generation would inherit the promised land. One of the things about a generation is that with the passing of the leaders of a generation, the people were quick to forget where they had been, and from where God had brought them from.
We live in a world today in which all of our young adults 39 and under were not alive to see the world of which Dr. King began his ministry. They do not understand the official government endorsement of the Jim Crow Laws, the burden of segregation, nor the unity that once existed in the Black community and the role of the Black Church in society.
Many do not understand what the big fuss was that Dr. King and other civil rights leaders seemed to be complaining about. Some youth ask if Dr. King was a real person. They do not understand the doctrines of last hired and first fired. They don’t understand that just because you have the money does not mean you can live in the neighborhood.
Some are naive enough to believe that if they had been around, they would have given southern sheriffs and policemen a piece of their minds if they had felt dished or disrespected.. They have no concept that in return they would have had their brains splattered against a jail wall with no one ever coming to justice for the crime and their families never knowing what happened to them.
I was born in 1956 in the heart of Ga in a little town called Dublin. It was a large agricultural place with plenty of farmlands owned by whites but worked by Negroes. Most of you never heard of Dublin, but that I discovered was intentional. The US Air Force had wanted to build a base in Dublin, but the local politicians fought against it. The base was eventually built in the city of Warner Robbins.
You may have heard of Warner Robbins AFB. It turns out, had the AFB had been built in Dublin, it would have taken too many Negroes out of the white farmer’s fields and presented them with a chance at real decent jobs. The local powers would rather keep Negroes poor and in check, than do what was best for the local area economy.
I grew up where the bathrooms were labeled men, women, and colored. I passed white and colored fountains. I remember not being able to go inside the local Dairy Queen. If business was slow, they would let you go to the side window. I remember when we got new school books, that already had kid’s names written in them. Only later did I discover those names, were the white kids who had used our new books for a few years before we got them.
I remember having to go through the backside of the Greyhound bus station, and not being able to use the more comfortable seats in the white section. It seemed the one thing we did get that was good was sitting in the balcony at the movie theaters. The whites were down on the floor and we were upstairs. We could never go down to sit, but we paid the same amount. I remember the white city pool that they filled in and turned into a tennis court rather than let blacks swim in it with whites.
I remember there were plenty of school buses in Dublin, but only two of them were assigned to the Negro Schools. After you reached seventh grade, you had to pay a dime to catch the school bus. I remember a dime was a lot of money back then and it was not easy having one every day. Most of us had to walk as the school bus passed by. I remember the white sections of town had paved streets, but many of our streets would be plowed every so often to make them smooth and hard with the rich Ga red clay dirt.
I also remember there were four classes in my grade. There was the A, the B, the C and the D Group. Each class had about 25 students in them. Which means there were 50 black boys in my class in elementary and junior high school, but when it came time to graduate in the new integrated high school only 5 black males graduated.
Before integration, everybody in the school was black. To talk back to a teacher was the exception and not the rule. You wouldn’t even talk back to a kitchen aid. I remember the spanking boards for those who even thought about talking back to a teacher or challenging a teacher. When a parent came to school, that was an embarrassment for the student, the parent, and the family. When we called each other brother and sister and gave the sign of the fist, we knew we were united in a struggle.
I recall one of my first episodes with the law at age 12. It was the same year in which Dr. King was assassinated. I had gone to Woolworth’s to buy a gift. I had my money in my hand as I left the store. It was a $5 dollar bill. I went to another five and ten cent store and made a purchase with that $5 bill. On my way home, I was stopped by a police car in front of the white Methodist church. I was placed in the back seat of the car terrified. The officers kept asking me what I had done wrong that day. I was careful to say Yes sir and no sir to their questioning. I told them I had not done anything wrong.
They took me back to Woolworth’s and this little white lady came out saying, “yes that’s the one.” That’s the negra who took the money out of the cash register. I confessed my innocence and told them I had done no such thing. She insisted that there were five one dollar bills in the cash register and that I had taken them.
I told the officers they could take me to the other store, and I could prove I had given the cashier a $5 bill. They said they knew I was lying, and they’d take me to the store to prove it. When they took me to the store, the clerk admitted I had given her a $5 bill, but she added the words, “I don’t know where he got the money from.”
The police then took me to a jail cell and had me strip naked to make sure I was not hiding any more money on me. They even had me spread eagle and bend over. They then let me go, and told me they would be coming to visit my house later that day. I went home and told my brother what had happened.
My father was listening through the wall. He came into the room and asked if I was telling the truth. I said yes. He was bold enough to challenge the police on this. I didn’t realize how bold of a step that was for him at that time. It turns out after a little more searching into the facts, the five missing dollars were still in the cash register at Woolworth’s. The lady saw a black kid with money in a store and immediately thought I was a thief.
Dr. King didn’t know of my story, but he did know the story of countless thousands whose lives were being twisted, abused and destroyed through racism and segregation. He knew how our society was bent on making us feel inferior and as though we were less than human. His desire for an integrated society was rooted in that if we could just see the potential we all have, we would see that we are equal and are all capable of doing great things.
The only problem with the dream that Dr. King had in 1963 is that people do not want to be equal. People want to have an upper hand or an edge over others so that they can maintain some type of advantage. We are not basically good as human beings. Oppression, greed and the thirst for power do not know color boundaries. That’s why Jesus came to die for all people, that they might have life. Without Christ, we are no different than the racist or anybody else in our hearts.
Here we are 45 years removed from the dream and what have we achieved. Do we really believe all men are created equal when if you’re poor and you rob a bank of $2000 you can get 15 to 20 years, but if you’re rich and rob a bank of 20 million, you can get one to 3 years and possibly even probation with a $100,000 fine. I might be willing to go to jail for 3 years if I could keep the $20 million.
You remember in the I have A Dream speech, the desire for children of former slaves and former slave owners to sit together at the table of brotherhood in Ga. The year our school had to integrate just conveniently coincided with the founding of the Christian School in Dublin. As a matter of fact many Christian schools started in the south almost the same time, integration became enforced. See how many charter dates for Christian Schools starting between 1970 and 1973. So much for sitting at the same table, when we can’t attend the same school. We can look at Cleveland and wonder why one side is black and the other side is white. Not much room for brotherhood here either
Remember his dream for Mississippi becoming an oasis of freedom and justice. Today Missisippi has the largest percentage of blacks than any other state. In 2005 it ranked second in the percent of births to unmarried mothers, it ranked second in the teen birth rate. Instead of Dr. King’s dream of an oasis, it seems more like a withering stream drying up in the desert.
What about the nation in which we are judged not by the color of their skin, but the content of their character. What do you think of if you see a three young black males walking the streets with sagging pants? Do you see a potential doctor, lawyer and teacher, or three thugs on their way to jail? Did you even inquire about the content of their character. What difference does a belt really make anyways?
One of the things about Dr. King is that he was an American who challenged the policies of the very country he loved. He took on an American President over the issue of the injustice of the Vietnam war. He lost all kinds of support over it.
Dr. King said. One day a newsman came to me and said, "Dr. King, don’t you think you’re going to have to stop, now, opposing the war and move more in line with the administration’s policy? As I understand it, it has hurt the budget of your organization, and people who once respected you have lost respect for you. Don’t you feel that you’ve really got to change your position?"
I looked at him and I had to say, "Sir, I’m sorry you don’t know me. I’m not a consensus leader. I do not determine what is right and wrong by looking at the budget of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. I’ve not taken a sort of Gallup Poll of the majority opinion." Ultimately a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus, but a molder of consensus.
How many of you believe this war in Iraq is morally wrong? How many of our presidential candidates have come out and said it? Dr. King would no more fit in today’s world than he did his own in speaking the truth. Do you think he’d be outraged that each time we speak of universal health care for all the citizens of this country, the first thing we here is think about the cost.
Yet our congress gave the president a blank check to declare a war on a nation that was not a threat to us. He even refused to discuss how much the war would cost. Even now, most of us have no idea on why we are fighting this war. We even hear things such as it’s better to fight them in Baghdad than in Boston. Do you remember with the Vietnam War they told us we had to fight the communists in Saigon to keep from fighting them in San Francisco. Well now we’re shipping some of our jobs to those same communists who won by staying in Saigon and changing the name of the city.
Why is the freedom of the Iraq’s more dear to our President’s heart than whether Americans can afford Prescription medicine or go and see a doctor. Why is rebuilding the Iraqi economy more important than Americans who have seen their good jobs shipped overseas, and now have jobs at a fraction of what they use to make? I do think Dr. King would ask these kinds of questions.
I think by far, the greatest disappointment for Dr. King would not be the failure of our government to deal earnestly with the war or with racism, or the failure of whites to admit the racism that exists and still benefits them. I believe he would be most disappointed with what became of the Negroe. Somewhere in the evolution from the Negroe, to the Black, to the African American we lost our soul as a people in exchange for the Almighty dollar. God Almighty had been our Savior but God’s been replaced by the all powerful Benjamins. We use to die for freedom, now we die for money and our turf in the gang and drug wars.
In the 60’s and 70’s we got tired of those people who called us Nigras, and Nagras, everything but Negroes, so we threw off that name Negroe and became Blacks. We thank God for James Brown with his “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.” Who is it that returned to calling us Nigga’s as though it were some type of badge to wear? How could a group called Nigga’s With An Attitude become famous. Why do we see NWA on our young people’s clothing? Did they miss the revolution led by Dr. King.
In the 60’s and 70’s we called each other sisters and brothers, and the clenched fist meant we were somehow in this thing together. I remember seeing Negroe after Negroe at protest marches with a sign saying “I Am A Man.” “I Am A Man”. “I Am A Man” They were subject to ridicule, harassment and possible beating for displaying those signs in public. Who was it that came behind us, and stripped us of our dignity and humanity by making it an honor to be referred to as my dawg. A dawg is like a slave owned by a master. Why return to the life of slavery and inhumanity. We are not daws, we are people and demand to be treated as such. People died to make us more than 3/5 of a white man and now someone wants to make us even less. Jesus said the truth will set you free. Why insist on being in bondage.
In our racially segregated schools, we had a host of black male teachers. We had respect in our schools. We had teachers working to invest themselves in us always looking for who was going to be the next one to really shine. They expected us to succeed. Today many of those bright male minds did not go to college, but rather to prison so the African American male teachers are lacking. I’ll never forget our science teacher Mr. Davis, who was 6’6 and had more than just playing basketball in mind.
There are more of us in prison today, than there were under the chains and oppression of segregation. Our high school drop out rate is ridiculous. There use to be a stigma and shame to going to jail, but now it has become a badge of honor to replace a high school diploma.
By the time our youth discover a prison record follows you the rest of your life, its too late and the cycle of low paying jobs have kicked in. Prison itself becomes a revolving door. The two years behind bars is small compared to the life sentence of being a Black Felon which has a set of chains all of its own around your legs. You’re still on the chain gang with a ball around your leg.
How can you build a strong family when one or both parents are sitting in jail, usually with something related to the drug trade. Since we know we have a better chance of going to jail than any other race, we ought to do all that we can to stay on the right side of the law and get our education behind us, before having babies.
We have even turned on each other in the class war between African Americans. We don’t want to live with those people, and we don’t want to go to school with those people. We consider it a badge of success when we do not have to be around those people.
It use to be white folks talking like that, but today it’s often the middle class black vs the blacks from the inner city. We have even tried to label them as less than human. They use to say all Negroes were lazy, shiftless, and thieves. Now we try to say only a group of them are, and that’s those who live in the inner city. When certain things happen, we say oh that’s so ghetto. I live in the so called ghetto, with two masters degrees and a dr. of ministry. I wish somebody would say, I’m just so ghetto so that others would do what I have done.
We have become a people without a soul in pursuit of the Almighty Dollar, the Amercian lifestyle, and getting it for me. We have very little moral values. Our society keeps pushing the church to the fringe of society. If no one learns the 10 commandments, where do they get their moral values. Heaven help us, if they learn it from the media. We have to realize that Dr. King opened the door to a larger society, but our destiny still hinges on the individual choices that we make with our lives.
We have to make choices to avoid poverty, that means staying in school, stop going to prison, quit having babies as teens, and building strong families. The bad thing about being poor is that our parents kept us from knowing we were poor. It’s not until you actually have to pay real bills, that you know what poverty is.
We have to determine how we will treat and refer to other members of our race and refuse to support those who denigrate us all. We have to ask, what am I willing to do to help somebody else along the way. We need to get back to our spiritual roots in the church so that we can have a moral compass to pass on to the next generation. We can decide to try to live in the promised land the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr wanted us to enter. Don’t his life or his death be in vain for you.
It is time for us to go back up on the mountaintop and do a reality check for where we are headed. If you do not see Jesus in your promised land, then I can assure you it’s not a land worth investing your life in. Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly.” That’s a promise land that’s worth a lifetime of investment.