Happy (actual) Birthday, Dr. King!


Don’t you just love the father of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s? How could you not?

Unless you’re a bigot, then I guess you could.

All the man did was put his life on the line and die for the black, the brown, the poor, the uneducated and everyone who wanted to be free. So, I love the man. Love the message. Glad he stepped up to the task when the bell tolled for him. I can’t say if I would have had the guts to take on a job that I knew would eventually get me slaughtered, if I knew I wouldn’t see my children grow up.

And don’t you love how at King Day programs in Black communities they always say his whole name? The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Junior? They always say it with such pride. Just gets me all hoarse in the throat a little.

The Black Snob put a moratorium on watching movies about slavery, the Civil Rights Movement and various crises in Africa a few years ago because she literally could not take the emotional toll of watching black people struggle to be free with a foot on their necks. It’s not that they aren’t good movies — they’re often AMAZING, Award-winning foot-on-neck-movies (with the exceptions of “Queen” and “Mandingo” — the only “camp” slavery film that still manages to be horribly depressing). But I just end up crying the whole time. Like with the 1978 “King” miniseries that incorporates actual footage from protesters being hosed and dogs being sicked on them. Last year on King holiday I was flipping through the free TV channels (as I had no cable back in Bakersfield, CA) and that miniseries was on and I knew I should turn the channel, but just like when I first saw the movie in the 1980s I could not turn away. So I just sat there an sobbed for two hours until King was dead in a hospital room.

Then there’s “Glory” which I saw so many times in my youth I practically have PTSD over it. Want to see me curl up in a fetal position crying? I’ve usually already been sobbing since Denzel gets whipped after, you know, it’s obvious he got beat enough as a slave. And I’ve cried through Morgan Freeman trying to talk some sense into Denzel’s hard head. But I die, DIE every time the end rolls up (SPOILER ALERT!) , the men start marching across the beach to their doom and Matthew Broderick gets off the damn horse to march with them. And I’m pretty much inconsolable when Denzel picks up the flag from dead Matthew Broderick’s hand and leads the men to charge over fort.

Why? Why did every history teacher, plus my parents, plus various cable networks show this film to me over and over? It’s so good and so freakin’ sad and wonderful all at the same time.

Hence the moratorium. Folks take moratoriums on Holocaust films. I’m still on my moratorium on black folks fighting for freedom films. I only lifted that moratorium briefly to see Dijmon Honsou and Leo DiCaprio in “Blood Diamond.” Also a good movie, but also a horrible movie. Nothing like people hacking people with machetes and child soldiers being doped up to massacre townsfolk.

My parents inundated me and my sister with black history from an early age. And we got the good, the bad and the “Rosewood.” She wanted us to know our history, be proud and not be sad. We watched every documentary, every film on black life she could find. We read “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” when we were 13. When I was that little, it didn’t upset me. I liked history, so it was just history to me. I didn’t feel any more strongly about MLK that I did about George Washington leading the Continental Army.

In high school I was riveted by the documentary “Eyes on the Prize” which was being replayed on PBS for a week. My father, who always managed to disappear whenever my mother turned the TV or VCR to black folks catching Hell, looked at me around day four of the documentary and say, “You’re still watching this? You’re going to turn into a militant.”

Later, my father would tell me that he knew I needed to watch it but he couldn’t watch it because he lived it. He couldn’t stand to watch black people get beat in the head. It wasn’t until I matured and became an adult and actually understood the seriousness and the gravity of the black experience that I realized that as strongly as I feel about black people and black history, I just can’t, can’t watch black people getting hit in the head right now. I’ll probably force my kids to watch the same things I watched and read the same things I read, but it’ll be hard for me to muster up the detachment to teach it as well as my mother taught it to me.

After all, I’m a bit of a crier.

That said, I hope The Clintons and The Obamas can cut out the who’s-a-racist, who’s-a-liar, who started the pettiest fight in political history garbage. It’s King’s birthday for the love of Jesus. Last I checked, all politicians are liars to a greater/lesser extent and The Clintons are a lot of things, like entitled and manipulative, but I’m pretty sure they’re not racist, at least in the sense that they really, really, really need black folks to vote for them in South Carolina. I’m almost positive the fight will be over come the debate tonight for that reason alone, as the whole thing is making The Clintons look awful, irregardless of how the situation over their largely pathetic statements has become over-blown.

4 thoughts on “Happy (actual) Birthday, Dr. King!

  1. As far as I’m concerned, the top three list of greatest people who ever lived is as follows: 1) Jesus Christ 2) The Good Revered Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 3) My Grandmother. And I’m oh so serious.Also…it’s good to know that others have movie moratoriums in place! My current one is sports movies with race at the heart of the story. For this reason I’ve STILL never seen Remember the Titans and I’m a HUGE Denzel fan. In fact, this moratorium’s been going on so long that it might be moving into outright ban territory.Oh well. Good post.

  2. Great column as usual. You are on my short list of blogs and sites I like. In Eyes on the Prize, there is a part on Selma (the second time, when James Reeb was killed) where James Forman is shown. Standing behind him is a young white guy with horn rimmed classes. That would be me. Sometimes I feel a little like Zelig. The people I have met, interviewed, talked to and been near. Including Dr. King (interviewed) and Malcolm (talked to). I am hoping somehow that what is happening these days will pick up some of the pieces and translate into something I can feel and see when I walk out — I live in Manhattan. I don’t mind the mood now but I can imagine what it might be. My wife and I were married on this day, for obvious reasons. Best, S

  3. I am with Father Snob…I cannot watch them. I am a big crier. My defining movie was The autobiogaphy of Miss Jane Pitman with Cicely Tyson. We watched it at school and I came home and asked Father was the KKK going to get us and hang us from the tree outside. Good post and memories 🙂 love XOXO

  4. Thanks for the compliment, Stephen. And that’s more than amazing that you got to see the movement unfurl first hand.And Blue, I haven’t desired to watch a comeback sports film since, I don’t know, the crappy movie “Sunset Park” or “Rudy.” I can’t remember. But I can’t watch them either.And yes, Big Sis, Miss Jane Pitman will make freak over the Klan, like in Spike Lee’s “X” when the Klan targets his father or in “Mississippi Burning” when the Klan, you know, burns things.

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