Reclaiming the Dreamer -Part 2

By Dee Dee Risher - Coeditor, The Other Side

The change in name of the magazine from Freedom Now to The Other Side reflected a deep conversion. King was not the agent of this conversion, though his analysis certainly informed it. And yet in King's ministry and The Other Side's history, we witness a similar dynamic: the dreaming of justice in one corner of the world breaks us open to the suffering everywhere--and our work must grow.

I first learned that Martin Luther King, Jr., had been assassinated from other fourth-grade classmates on the morning school bus. The storm of social change that was transforming South Carolina and the nation beyond it had barely touched my young, largely White world. Only in the next year would my class have its first African American student, a shift barely remarked upon.

Years later, I learned that the debates about King that tore many Southern White homes at the time had also rocked my own. An uncle who worked as a journalist in Atlanta often heard King speak. He would engage his father, my grandfather, in heated conversation about the merits of the man and the movement he spoke for. I have no memory of such conversations. My small, secure community seemed oblivious to the change blowing everywhere.

Thirty-five years later, as I come to the man again, I also know that I am entering myth. King has been dead long enough for anyone to put words in his mouth. Long enough that use of his own words launches one into legal minefields of copyrights, royalties, and who makes money on the legacy. Though in his time, King was deeply loved by a small minority and hated or ignored by many, today he is uniformly admired.

If we are honestly going to assess Martin Luther King, Jr., we must all find our place in this history. We must confront who we were then--and what we have become as a nation and within ourselves. The process of reminding ourselves of his powerful vision and critique is only transformative if we are also willing to reshape ourselves as a result of the listening.

Our exploration of King's life reminds us that we must be willing to let our heroes be flawed and struggling, at our sides and not over our heads. The various chronicles of King's life are candid about his humanness. King and others in the movement were traditional in their views of women and often dismissive of their contributions. His sexual infidelities have been widely reported. He talked candidly about his own cowardice. We need to let him be human. When we do, we might discover in him some of the struggles, failures, and losses of our own lives.

Nor did King make the movement. The movement chose King as one of its primary spokespersons, and he attempted to be worthy of that naming--but the movement was a swelling forth of the Spirit in many lives. It created a place for King, and after much soul-searching, King was willing to answer that call, its own form of courage.

For me, one of King's most salient teachings was his conviction that each of us holds some of the truth. He believed that our processes of listening and speaking to one another become the hallowed communication by which our lives are transformed, and by which we understand the power of love Jesus spoke of.

Let us unfold this issue with that spirit of listening again, opening ourselves to the message instead of focusing on the earthen vessel through which it comes, and never ceasing to ask what we must do to let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream. We have only our lives.