Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

A little over a week ago, I took my daughters to see the movie Hidden Figures about three African American women whose work at NASA’s Langley Research Center was integral to getting the first American astronauts into orbit. I loved the film, it’s depiction of the early days of manned spaceflight, and the courage and determination Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson displayed in pursuing their personal and professional dreams. The movie reminded me how far we’ve come as a society in the last fifty years.

Concurrent with the events of the movie Hidden Figures, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for civil rights in the south. Martin Luther King Jr. Greeting Parishioners One of my favorite quotes by Dr. King is from a speech he gave at Iowa’s Cornell College in October 1962. During the speech, he said, “God grant that the people of good will will rise up with courage, take over the leadership, and open channels of communication between races, for I think that one of the tragedies of our whole struggle is that the South is still trying to live in monologue, rather than dialogue, and I am convinced that men hate each other because they fear each other. They fear each other because they don’t know each other and they don’t know each other because they don’t communicate with each other, and they don’t communicate with each other because they are separated from each other.”

In this era in which political leaders talk of building walls, I find Dr. King’s words take on new relevance. What’s more, it’s become fashionable to decry “political correctness.” I agree to the extent that watching your words so carefully that you don’t say what you mean can be a barrier to communication. However, using your dislike of “political correctness” as an excuse to be a jerk and spew hateful rhetoric is just another way of closing off communication. Sometimes people should shut up for a while and let the other guy talk. That’s living in dialogue rather than monologue.

As a writer, I’m committed to showing people of different cultures living and working together. It’s not just a dream or a vision for me, but life as I prefer to experience it. I don’t want to be separated from people of other races and cultures. That communication and dialogue I experience enriches me and I often find people of different cultures are more alike than different. I find more security in good neighbors and friends than I ever have alone behind a wall.

It’s become apparent these last few years that we still have a long way to go in creating a society where everyone feels they have an equal chance to succeed. However, looking back to Dr. King, I see how far we’ve come and know that we can’t afford to go backwards.

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4 comments on “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

  1. Greg Long says:

    I concur. It is a well chosen quote too. Fear underlies so much that is wrong in our societies.

    • Thanks, Greg. So true and we all too often channel fear into anger, starting a truly destructive cycle. That’s where the non-violent approach of Dr. King and Gandhi is so important. It’s a break in the cycle that forces people to think.

  2. My Dad worked for the US Navy during that era. He recruited mathematicians and engineers for the ordinance division. One time he told me he recruited a black woman and she specifically mentioned there were no other blacks in the division. He told her she would be the first. And she was.

    I doubt any of the women featured in the movie were Naval engineers, but I know that his story backs up what the book (and now movie) assert. I really look forward to seeing this movie.

    • That’s awesome, Deby. From what I’ve heard, Hidden Figures is reasonably accurate. Like most “true life” movies I’m sure there are details one could nitpick. NASA Langley adjoins Langley Air Force Base so I suspect the women involved would have either been NASA or Air Force employees. (The implication is they worked for NASA, but again that could be a fudged detail.)

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