I don’t remember when I first learned about Martin Luther King, Jr. I do remember being taught that he fought for the end of segregation and more rights for minorities. Until recently, I never realized just what that meant.
I spoke a bit before about the history class I am taking and our first assignment to write about why we should study history. The same week I turned in that assignment there was a discussion on Jim Crow laws that governed the way that African-Americans were to behave after slavery was outlawed. Many of today’s adults grew up hearing the phrase “separate but equal” and about assigned seating on buses, but I don’t think I ever realized just how far some of the expectations of etiquette permeated society.
This past week our discussion and assignment focused on industrialization and life in the early 1900’s. I didn’t understand until I got into the reading and discussion that many of the feelings of superiority over African-Americans extended to many immigrants as well, particularly the Irish. I had also never made the connection in my mind about how long the former slaves and their children had to fight before they started seeing some basic rights. There were also points in the discussion that made me rethink why things were done certain ways.
So, when I got up this morning and realized what day it was, I did something I have never done before. I actually listened to Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. As I listened I thought about how much of what he had to say can still be applied to parts of our society today. Even if segregation is not legally accepted, there are many instances of people segregating themselves or others without even realizing that’s what they’re doing. We break ourselves down into groups geographically, educationally, religiously, and politically. The color of a person’s skin may have less impact than it did in the past, but even that is still used to discriminate and segregate. Martin Luther King’s words still carry as much meaning today as they did then. If you have never listened to his words, I urge you to do it now.
The feelings of one race’s superiority over others were built up over hundreds of years, and over generations of people. The feelings of equality will also take time and generations to build up. Slavery existed in the US for close to 400 years. It was about 100 years after the end of slavery before African-Americans began to see legal recognition. It may be hundreds of years still before we actually see a complete end to the discriminating feelings of people and true equality. I hope that it’s something our children and our children’s children, down through the generations, will never tire of fighting for.