Your correspondent reacts to the violence scarring our land by drafting a letter to the nation’s greatest civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dear Dr. King:
You do not know me but I have been a great admirer of yours for some time. I was three years-old when you were murdered in my hometown. As an adult I have studied your movement and believe in non-violence, even though anger lies deep and wide inside me.
52 years after you left us, our country is again tearing itself apart over the stain of racism. A black man in Minnesota was brutally murdered by a white police officer. The murder has sent waves of protest across the nation, including Memphis. Unfortunately, some peaceful demonstrations have been followed by anarchists and thieves who burned buildings and looted stores. Instead of following your teaching of “meeting physical force with soul force,” too many of us are giving in to the intoxicating aroma of violence.
For me, rage has long been a haunting companion and over the past few days I have thought of the many times my anger has gotten the better of me. I have never assaulted anyone but Lord knows I’ve wanted to. Perhaps my worst moment came several years ago at the public library where I work. An irate customer, enraged because we asked him to reduce the volume on his computer, approached the public service desk and spit in my face. As security and I escorted him down the front stairs to the exit, he turned and made a crude remark about my mother. Hate coursed through my body and I seriously considered pushing him over the railing to his death. Fortunately, my moral compass quickly righted itself and he left unharmed. I was, and remain, ashamed of my feelings but am thankful soul force kept me from committing violence.
Saturday was a rough day in America. The night before, violence erupted in your hometown of Atlanta and many other cities. Up to that point the demonstrations had been mostly peaceful, so for many Americans our weekend began in sadness. That afternoon the sounds of news reports filled my car as I ran errands with my friend Derrick Patterson. The stories were so disturbing that a chunk of anxiety lodged in my heart and grew as the day passed. Lost in the catalog of dilemmas that is 2020, I barely noticed when a late model car sped by and changed lanes. Suddenly time slowed as I watched the car plow into two other vehicles.
“OH, NO!” Derrick exclaimed as the sound of crunching metal and squealing tires filled the air.
“We have to stop and help,” Derrick said as the vehicles came to a stop and traffic slowed. Pulling onto the shoulder, we checked on the driver of the first vehicle. Fortunately, he and his young daughter were fine. We placed his daughter in the backseat of my car and checked on the other drivers. Everyone was unhurt so we waited for the authorities to arrive. Derrick shared his bottled water and chips while offering encouragement to the shaken driver and entertaining his daughter. After a couple of hours a tow truck arrived and we wished the driver and his daughter good luck. I told the little girl that I was sorry for what happened, but was very happy to have met her. Her grace and smile was powerful enough to calm the most anxious heart.
As we drove away, I remembered you once said, “Everybody can be great . . . because anybody can serve.” If we can all help others the way Derrick and the first responders did on that terrible Saturday, perhaps we can overcome the lamentable predicaments we find ourselves in. I close with a prayer for our nation and the hope we will remember your teachings.
G. Wayne Dowdy