By Rosalie Tirella
Something happened to Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy when the school teachers got a hold of him (and us). The teachers – that is most of them – were well meaning but hopelessly naive (and fearful?) when it came to the murdered civil rights leader and his legacy. Maybe they got stuck on one speech – only watched or listened to his “I have a Dream” speech and none of his other speeches and sermons, all fiercely political, tough minded and demanding … demanding America to change. In a deep, fundamental way …
Maybe they heard the part in his I Have a Dream speech – a history-making sermon he delivered before 200,000 people at the Lincoln Memorial in D.C. in 1963, before his March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom – and got stuck on one image in the speech – the part when MLK says he dreams of the day little black children can hold hands with little white children in peace. Being school teachers, these words plucked at their heart strings, the image moved them. And so they unwittingly turned MLK into a kind of sweet nursery rhyme character. Milquetoast for the masses – masses of school children who grew up never knowing, hearing the real Martin Luther King Jr.
MLK’s I Have a Dream speech is not, in my opinion, even one of his greater “sermons”! Go listen to MLK on fire!! – go find and listen to his many sermons and speeches on You Tube and YOU WILL BE BLOWN AWAY. You will be awestruck by this tough, courageous, political, loving, religious, funny, brilliant, charismatic, REVOLUTIONARY, ERUDITE preacher man!
For me, MLK was as great an orator as Lincoln. And, miraculously, he was part of our world – the second half of the 20th century! If you’re a Baby Boomer (like me) or older, you remember him: you got to see, experience his presence on the American scene. And he was Olympian! I remember watching the TV, just a little kid, mesmerized by this Black man with the sonorous voice who could bring thousands of people to their feet – listening to him, singing with him, marching with him. My late mom revered MLK – and Bobby Kennedy. Through the TV news, their speeches to her, to all Americans, made a difference. These two men, both highly educated, both wealthy, one Black, one Irish American, spoke to my poor single Polish mother in Green Island. They were a balm to her emotional pain, her family’s poverty, the difficulty, sometimes brutality, of her life. Their words, along with her Catholic faith, gave my single working mother strength to keep working those 60 hours at the drycleaners for minimum wage – never getting overtime, always making the extra money under the table. They helped give her the fortitude to make sure her three little girls were well cared for and going to Lamartine Street School EVERY DAY and studying hard and getting those As on their report cards so they could go to college on scholarship! They helped her keep her dreams for a better future alive. At 45, 55 … 75 years old she would tell me: My Rosalie, I liked the Kennedy’s but Bobby better than Jack [Kennedy]. Bobby was more emotional. He was with the poor. He felt for the poor. …..My Green Island mini history lesson! Besides the hard life lessons I was living/ learning each day!
MLK and Bobby Kennedy were so special to the poor, the disenfranchised of America! Not just Black folks. These two men knew – KNEW! – how hard it was! They loved us, were fighting for us and we knew it!
But white suburban middle class teachers sometimes don’t get it or maybe these days all Americans – out of complacency or intellectual laziness – don’t get it. Have forgotten the guts, the raw nerve, the visionary goals, the tough messages of MLK and Bobby K. These men were so outside the box they were perceived a threat by the rich, the powerful in this country … the people who called the shots in our small towns and big cities. South AND North. I believe MLK knew he was going to be killed (listen to his sermons!). He just didn’t know when. Which gave his life urgency: SO MUCH TO ACCOMPLISH – so little time to do the work! he must have thought to himself. Genius that he was, he crammed 1,000 lives into his cut-short one. He was just 39 years old when he was shot dead on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel!
Just like Jesus, another revolutionary, who also took the bullet, via crucifixion. Jesus too was tough, political, pro poor folks and outsiders. Hence: Dangerous. He preached about a New World Order, like MLK. Through nonviolence and love. An even bigger threat! Now how do the nefarious Nixons and Romans wrap their heads around that???
Jesus and MLK threatened the status quo on so many levels: racially, politically, economically, and yes, even sexually (remember Mary Magdalene?😉).
Of course, America killed MLK.
And we are killing him still. – today!
On the local front:
Where are the Black school teachers in our lilly white Worcester Public Schools? Many of our elementary schools have 100% all white teacher staff. Have for decades.
Where are our African American librarians in the Worcester Public Library and her branches! Remember: Worcester is becoming a majority-minority city, yet her “public servants” in no way resemble, reflect her public!
Because white people just don’t wanna give it up. Share the perks and the power. Just like in 1965.
Shame on Worcester City Manager Ed Augustus for all the lip service but failing to walk the walk!
The Black Lives Matter movement and their peaceful protests here in Worcester? Squelched. By City Manager Augustus. Backed by police with guns and the threat of jail! Just like in 1965.
Worcester police beating the crap out of African American men and city leaders are still just thinking about body cameras for cops and for their police cruiser dash-boards. And where’s our civilian review board? How serious are Worcester city councilors taking police brutality? Do they really want to stop police brutality? ….Just like in 1965.
What about the high-ranking City of Worcester employee who called a black person, as the person was driving into the Worcester City Hall parking garage and he was exiting City Hall, a “Fucking Nigger”? Was he ever fired from his city job? Put on leave? Was the public even allowed to see the city records on this very public city incident by this public employee whose salary is paid for by the public? Nope. Hush, hush!
Compared to the cities of Hartford or Springfield, cities where I once lived and got to see a TRULY racially integrated city workforce, Worcester is woefully, shamefully behind the times.
But there’s plenty of blame to go around. One of the Worcester people who could have righted some of the injustices, or at least the ones in our public schools, was Stacey Luster. Luster, a prominent city African American, is the former Human Resources Director for the Worcester Public Schools. She was responsible for the hiring of our public school teachers and could have changed Worcester’s school teacher landscape in an important and city-shaping way. Truly diversified the Worcester Public Schools teaching staff! But she didn’t. I learned this early on, strangely enough, not at a public hearing or public meeting at City Hall but outside my old pal, the late Tony Hmura, outside Tony’s sign shop, in his driveway! On Canterbury Street, in the middle of the ‘hood! Stacey and her husband owned a building on Canterbury Street near Tony’s shop and (I learned later from Tony) Tony made a sign for their building.
So…I was driving into the Leader Sign parking lot to visit Tony and I see Stacey’s husband leaving the shop. An unexpected surprise, in light of the fact the City of Worcester had just hired her to be the new Worcester Public Schools Human Resources Director. Its first African American one. I say to him, right off the bat, because I’m so enthused and happy: HI! ISN’T IT GREAT?! ISN’T IT GREAT THAT YOUR WIFE IS HEADING HUMAN RESOURCES IN OUR SCHOOLS?!! NOW SHE CAN REALLY BRING IN BLACK TEACHERS AND REALLY DIVERSIFY OUR SCHOOLS!!!!
Her husband looks at me and says: We’ve got a mortgage to pay. When she was in public office, but not now.
Translation: His wife wasn’t going to rock any Worcester status quo boats. She wanted to keep her City of Worcester job and her HUGE City of Worcester paycheck. Screw advancing her people, exposing minority kids to important role models …Screw bringing Worcester out of 1965!
Which should remind us all HOW GREAT Martin Luther King, Jr. was!
He died for his people!
He died so black teachers could teach in Southern schools.
He gave his life so Stacey Luster could have a high status, high paying job in the Worcester Public Schools!
Forget the losers!
Honor, MLK! Celebrate, MLK! But most important, LISTEN TO HIM!!!
His message is UNSTOPPABLE!
P.S. Can you imagine? MLK just stopping by to give a little talk to your junior high school?! Wow.