Monday, January 18, 2010

The Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Photo: I Have a Dream Speech - Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Today's newspaper column. Read it in the Hattiesburg American.

Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream. Not a complaint - a living dream.

The powerful and compelling vision he articulated was that someday, in America, people would not be “judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

We’ve come a long way since that late August in 1963 when Martin Luther King, Jr. uttered those very words from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. To the country and the world, the ideals those words embodied were a beacon of truth beaming from the shores of justice through a thick fog of prejudice, hate, and injustice.

Thomas Jefferson penned the words “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence, but those words rang hollow when compared to the suffering of some at the hands of others hell-bent on ‘keeping Negros in their place.’ In the face of sneers, segregation and the all-too-common lynching, King preached the gospel of love and non-violence – but not acceptance of the status quo - as a path to equality. And for that, he was shot and killed.

So today we honor the ideal of racial equality and memorialize the actions of this civil rights martyr with a national holiday on the Monday closest to the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Lesser known was a version of Rev. King in Hattiesburg, Mississippi: Rev. J.C. Killingsworth. Killingsworth led the civil rights movement in Hattiesburg spearheading and organizing peaceful demonstrations during this volatile time in our nation’s history putting his own life at risk as well as those of his family and associates.

Today, a group of involved citizens in Hattiesburg – the J.C. Killingsworth Freedom Corner Committee - has a dream. The dream is to create a living interactive memorial and education center for the purpose of honoring pillars of the civil rights struggle in Hattiesburg, MS. Appropriately, the site is located at the intersection of Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive and the newly renamed J.C. Killingsworth Avenue.

This memorial is not an attempt to rehash the past, but to put history in context for the next generation, and to play a vital part in racial reconciliation.

Wander through the “Pillars of the Movement” and hear oral histories of 12 Hattiesburg civil rights leaders. Break through the “Wall of Injustice” and be serenaded by jubilant gospel anthems as you gaze into a central sphere reflecting a kaleidoscope of colorful murals of Hattiesburg’s civil rights pillars in the background while seeing the most important person in the ongoing quest for racial equality - yourself.

To find out how you can help turn this Freedom Corner dream into reality, send an email to or write to Freedom Corner, c/o James Ray Polk Architect, P.O. Box 1253, Hattiesburg, MS 39403. Or donate online by going to

Let’s join together to bring about a vibrant and sustainable culture of true racial equality in the community in which we live.

Take a tour of the J.C. Killingsworth Freedom Corner here.

Friday, January 15, 2010

I Have A Dream...

Inspirational words of wisdom by Martin Luther King, Jr. - born 81 years ago today:

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.

At the center of non-violence stands the principle of love.

Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.

Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.

An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek.

The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education.

Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.

We must use time creatively.

The time is always right to do what is right.

Photo: Signing of Civil Rights Amendment - Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.

Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.

Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.

Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.

The nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

Everything that we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Uh-Oh Decade

This week's newspaper column - read it in the Hattiesburg American:

Out with the old; in with the new!

After stumbling through a decade that started with a millennial bang and ended with a whimper, the calendrical odometer benevolently flips over to give us – at least metaphorically – a new start.

It may be telling that we never really knew what to call this unsettling era. Naming every decade in living memory has been obvious with references to the 50’s, the 60’s, and even the more recent 90’s rolling off the tongue with poetic ease. Give us a little more time, and the past ten years may put oldies stations out of business for lack of a tag line.

Most disappointing may be the economics of the uh-oh’s. You may remember that the United States entered the decade with a fiscal surplus. But by late 2008 we found ourselves in an economic situation that most economists referred to as “freefall.” Though the national economy has stabilized and has even started to grow a bit in the past few months, unemployment is still rampant and a record number of people are on food stamps.

What happened?

Well, sustainably speaking, we lost our balance.

Years of hearing bloviating pundits and so-called political leaders telling us that “greed is good” and “taxes are bad” gave momentum to an ethic hostile to the good of the whole. In the uh-oh’s, we as a society failed in our responsibility to promote our common interests. We starved our schools, we neglected our infrastructure, and we told the weakest and least fortunate members of our citizenry to get lost.

Yes, a strong sense of individuality and personal responsibility is essential to maintain a functional society, but so too is healthy investment and carful nurturing of the common good. When the good of the individual is out of balance with the good of the whole, sooner or later society reaches a tipping point, and the economic system comes crashing down.

The truth is, no single individual is completely self-made. Everyone, to some extent, depends upon the hard work and good will of others for their success. So when those nameless faceless “others” suffer, so in turn does the famous self-made man.

Creating and maintaining sustainable systems - whether in community planning, building design, or economic blueprint - requires a strong focus on community responsibility in addition to personal responsibility. That means stepping up as a society and paying to fix the things that are broken. It also means investing in what’s important for the betterment of us all, like education, community infrastructure, and healthcare.

What good is another wide-screen TV when the world is crumbling around you?

Why not change our “me-first” attitude and make the twenty-tens a “we-first” decade? With 2020 vision, we have the opportunity to fashion a decade where all prosper.