Monday, January 15, 2007

Happy Birthday

Today is Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. Happy birthday, Dr. King.

Where I live, Utah, was the last state to recognize the King holiday as Martin Luther King Day. Before 2000 it was called Civil Rights Day or some other euphemism. African-Americans make up only about 1% of the population and most Utah natives are still not used to non-white faces amongst the mostly Northern European-type residents.

In the 1960s I saw a huge billboard on State Street in Salt Lake City. It had a picture of Dr. King sitting in a chair, in a classroom setting. The headline on the billboard said, "MARTIN LUTHER KING AT A COMMUNIST CELL MEETING!" The billboard was signed by "TACT--The Truth About Civil Turmoil." There really was no way anyone could tell where the picture was taken or when, or whether it was a commie cell meeting or the social committee in the basement of a church. Even people around here who hated King, who hated everything he stood for, didn't swallow that. I remember talk radio programs with people discussing how untrue the billboard looked to them.

Utah, and particularly Utah County, just south of us, was the hotbed of activity for the John Birch Society. It's still the single largest concentration of conservatives in the state. I assume the organization TACT, which I never heard of before or since, was probably either part of the Birchers, or some guy paying for a billboard and calling himself an organization.

I think it was that billboard that was the catalyst to make me pay attention to the civil rights issues going on at the time. I was a teenager, usually just involved with myself and my friends, letting the world go by without thinking about it much. The billboard's message worked for me, but in exactly the opposite way the person who erected it wanted it to. After seeing the naked and libelous hatred in that message I had much more sympathy for what people were out marching for.

It was about a hundred years from the end of the U.S. Civil War until the first Civil Rights Acts were signed by the President, and it might be a hundred more years before people start judging people by "the content of their character and not the color of their skin." I wonder how long it would have taken had there not been a charismatic leader like Dr. King to remind us we're all in this together.

*******During the 1950s or early '60s this comic booklet came out with the story of Dr. King and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, made famous in the history of the civil rights movement. It was distributed in the South, and was a primer on non-violence, including two pages on the Gandhi story. You can find the whole thing posted at this site. There are also some other interesting educational comic booklets posted there; things I'm sure you've never seen before. I know I hadn't.

This particular comic book is well done with excellent illustrations. Organizations found out that people respond positively to information given in this format, which is why it's always been so successful.


Years ago when Martin Luther King Day was being proposed, then implemented, I heard a lot of grousing and complaining. One guy said, "Who the hell wants a holiday in the middle of January?" I told the guy, "People might not accept it as a holiday until the car dealers and furniture stores start using it as a selling tool." Sure enough, this weekend the ads are out, and the "Martin Luther King Day clearance sales!!!" are bursting out of my local newspaper.

Ciao for now.

No comments: