But what people like Paul fail to grasp is that the issues against which African-Americans railed in 1963 were just as invisible to some of us back then as the issues of 2013 are to some of us right now. They did not see the evil of police brutality in ‘63 any more than some of us can see the evil of mass incarceration now. They did not see how poll taxes rigged democracy against black people then any more than some of us can see how Voter ID laws do the same thing now.
So there’s fake courage in saying, “I would have been with Martin then.” Especially while ignoring issues that would press Martin now.
No, being there took — and still takes — real courage, beginning with the courage to do what some of us are too cowardly, hateful, stubborn or stupid to do: see what is right in front of your face.
Because when Martin Luther King said, “I have a dream,” he was not, contrary to what some of us seem to believe, calling people to co-sign some vague, airy vision of eventual utopia. No, he was calling people to work, work until “justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” This was not a sermon about the someday and the eventual. “Now is the time,” said King repeatedly. So it was. And so it is.
We live in King’s “tomorrow” and what he preached in that great rolling baritone at the temple of Lincoln 50 summers ago ought to inspire us anew in this post-Trayvon, post-Jena 6, post-Voting Rights Act, post-birther nonsense era. It ought to make us organize, agitate, educate and work with fresh determination. It ought to challenge you to ask yourself: What have you chosen not to see? And now, having seen it, what will you do to make it right?
Because, we face tomorrows of our own.
Thankfully, we move into them with the same elusive hope — and towering dream — of which King spoke, the one that has always driven African-American people even in the valley of deepest despair.
Free at last!
Free. At last.
Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.