MLK Day: What does it mean?

  • Published
  • By Chaplain (Maj.) Mark Campbell
  • 12th Flying Training Wing
The Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church is not one of the more prominent church buildings in Montgomery, Alabama. The red brick and sharp roof angles are very typical of many area buildings. But it's not the architecture; it's the history of this corner church directly across from the front steps of the Alabama capital that make this place famous.

I visited this area last October while on temporary duty to Maxwell Air Force Base and my mind went back to past memories.

It was at this church that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was once pastor and is credited as being the birthplace of the civil rights movement in the United States. It was just across the street that a new Alabama governor proclaimed, "Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!" at his inaugural. What a contrast!

Wonderfully, history records that the same man, as a former governor and in chronic pain from a would-be assassin's bullet, entered that church building years later in his wheelchair to admit that he was wrong and asked the people assembled to forgive him.

Some of us may not understand why Dr. Martin Luther King Day is a holiday. I used to wonder about that a bit myself, growing up during the 60s.

I grew up in an area that seemed far removed from the race riots and of the major cities where racial tension did not exist, mainly because there was almost no racial difference in the local population; there was one African American in our high school of over 1600 students.

I had no idea that many of the singers of the pop songs I heard on the radio were African-American since I rarely saw a person of color in my hometown. It took travel of over 70 miles to find any kind of population other than white, and a 180 mile trip to find an urban area with a minority population of any size.

I did not in any way consider myself to be prejudiced, but over time came to see that in many respects my upbringing was one of an absence of racial minorities, effectively relieving me of the need to include minorities in my consciousness. This had to come about later in life.

So why does Dr. King, and the issues he stood for, matter to me today?

For one, I have seen much more of the world. My eyes have been opened to the richness of ethnic diversity and cultural contributions the many ethnic groups that make up our country's aggregate culture.

Another reason is that I have come to see that racial equality is a principle worthy of advancement in any part of our nation no matter where one lives.

Another reason is that Dr. King was right ... all people deserve a chance to live and prosper under the protection of law. That is America.

Dr. King had the courage of his convictions to stand against racial injustice and challenge us all with his dream ... this grew out of his Christian convictions as a Baptist minister and the influence of Gandhi's non-violent approach to social change.

Where do we stand today? Can we make a difference?

Yes, we can make a difference! The military has led the way with racial equality in the workplace and should be rightfully thankful of its rich tradition.

Today my daughter, who is in college preparing to be a teacher, works in an after-school program for underprivileged children, 100 percent of whom are of a racial minority and has found a very deep rapport with the students. Her blond hair contrasts sharply with that of her middle school charges, as does her social background.

Why does she fit in so well? She cares about them from within ... and that's where our attitudes of acceptance of others must come, from within.

No legislation can change a heart. Proverbs 4:23 says, "Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flows the springs of life."

Our behavior toward one another, to include racial differences, can be managed by laws. But our attitudes toward one another must stem from the heart.

It's time to accept one another from the heart!