Reading at the Crossroads

Reading at the Crossroads is an archive for columns and letters which appeared in the Terre Haute Tribune Star. I also blog here when my patience is exhausted by what I feel is irritating, irrational and/or ironic in life. --gary daily

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Location: Terre Haute, Indiana, United States

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Monday, January 16, 2006

CROSSROADS COMMENT--Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. : What do we want? When do we want it?

“Cowardice asks the question, 'Is it safe?' Expediency asks the question, 'Is it politic?' But conscience asks the question, 'Is it right?' And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but because conscience tells one it is right.” --Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Compromise as a concept and action is alluring, available, and sometimes even works. But it would be wise not to reach too quickly or thoughtlessly for what appears easy and available. Some human problems are open to compromise, some human rights are not.

Many of us just celebrated the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and re-dedicated ourselves to the principles that guided his work. Fewer remember the rancor and the bitter arguments his life and principles precipitated, when the truths he and his many courageous followers put forward seemed new, different, somehow unreasonable.

Read the record, view the newsreel film of civil rights demonstrators marching through hostile and abusive crowds. Listen to the marchers simple yet profound chants, the call and response of individuals pursuing goals far larger than themselves:

“What do we want?

Freedom!”

"When do we want it?

Now!”

Simple and direct, grounded in large truths and unassailably just.

Now remember the responses of men in suits, men wearing narrow ties and thinking and reacting in narrow and self-interested ways. Remember the editorial reactions in newspapers, and not just the papers of the segregated Down South, but the Up North publications as well.

They rejected the magnificent direct simplicity of calls for Freedom on a The Time is Now schedule. With shallow studiousness they dismissed a profound turning in this nation’s life as being “precipitous,” “unrealistic,” “Radical.”

As a bulwark against obviously needed change, these self-anointed and supposedly broad-minded individuals retreated into the shadowlands of safe avoidance. They told themselves and the many who were only too glad to listen that “compromise” would better serve all sides in this messy conflict, that a middle ground and accommodation on all sides was needed.

I don’t think so.

What were Dr. King and the brave men and women marching and dying being asked?

Should they have agreed to slicing up Freedom and being served a portion that made the powers that be comfortable?

Should they have said outright for all to hear, OK, forget about Now, we’ll take our rights on an installment plan, send us a dab next month and dribble the rest out on a five year plan?

That’s not the kind of leader Dr. King was and he wasn’t that kind of leader because of the people who followed him.

Happy birthday Dr. King. Many heroes and heroines predated you, many followed you along a dangerous and necessary path, and many more carry on your legacy in the present. Your life and the history you helped to make teaches all of us that there are some things that can’t and should not be compromised.

--gary daily

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