A conversation with Dr. King


We all have the same dream as Dr. Martin Luther King, yet I, as many others, wonder whether Dr. King would be happy with what he sees today. We are obviously wide awake; the "dream" a fading memory of a past slumber. Crime, poverty, unemployment, homeles sness, drug addiction, and a government that would rather posture than work - granted, these problems existed in his time, something he recognized when he said, "The means by which we live have outdistanced the ends for which we live. Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men." (1963) He realized men and women of moral stature and righteous purpose could overcome in the aftermath of greed, bigotry and indifference, even within a political and economic system designed to striate the populace. Yet, it would be a most interesting conversation ...

- Good evening, Dr. King. My first question is whether you believe people are more misguided today than in 1963 and why?

Dr. King: Good evening to you, young man. Well, I would have to say more so misguided because of the proliferation of mass media.

- I see. More ways to confuse an already disconcerted electorate. Yet, apathy and confusion plagued this nation then. There must be something else.

Dr. King: The safety nets that existed then are certainly absent now; the sense of a national family, and in many respects, the traditional family is crumbling. A purely political approach to social change is limited and does not take into account the int angible, yet fundamental changes needed to create a sound body. The political approach only resulted in a Band-Aid solution to a more deeply rooted problem of our society.

- What was the "problem"?

Dr. King: The problem was that of equity among men. The political approach orders the change of the behavior of men, a change that must be constantly enforced. Yet, to change the minds of men, a change that speaks from the Constitution of this nation, th at "all men are created equal"; that speaks to the content of our character and not to the color of our skin - this is a long lasting change that politics will not effect. Bigotry, greed and discrimination are understood as immoral, unjust and harmful. Yet, they are rampant. Remember, bigotry and hatred are learned behaviors; we all take solace in the innocence of children. But such abhorrent attitudes are passed on generation after generation, and embraced generation after generation. We need to teach, instill, and demand within ourselves that such attitudes are inherently unacceptable. Remember when I said "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere"?

- I gather from our discussion you are disappointed?

Dr. King: I am. Very little progress has been made. Progress requires continual change, and the change we started has come to a grinding halt. Many assume that once change has begun, the momentum will continue, the push for progress will be self-perpetuat ing. Back then, our goals were clear because the barriers were obvious. We wanted the right to sit anywhere, eat anywhere, go to any school, live in any neighborhood, obtain any job. Today, for the most part, we can do those things. However, the barriers are no longer obvious. We can attend integrated schools, live in integrated neighborhoods, and so on, but we are clearly not welcome. The attitude is more of toleration, rather than acceptance. Fundamental change has not arrived.

- Many people today say that the civil rights era has pasted, racism has been defeated, and America is well on its way to sharing in the "dream" you spoke of so eloquently. What would you say to them?

Dr. King (a bit irritated): Well... I would patiently remind them that racism has not been defeated, only put on a new face. The dream includes the executive boardroom, corporate management; conversations in the bedroom and around the fax machine. Equality cannot have boundaries. The dream is of acceptance, given freely by everyone, not tolerance mandated by a few.

- In your mind, where have we come to?

Dr. King: "Progress" has significantly fractured and splintered the African American people. We have bought into the idea of individual aspirations. Back then, we had a large nucleus of like-minded people, nationwide, all making progress toward a conscie ntious goal. It is not difficult to see how individual ambitions could undermine this. Our youth is not reminded enough that the foundation upon which they stand was built with the hands of my time. That is dangerous. As I said before, "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."

- Any closing remarks?

Dr. King: Face it, we're a long way from the promised land. "All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem." The problems we face are both black and white. Without collective solutions, we will all "perish together as fools."

He would be 67.

David H. Benton is a second year law student and the president of the Black Law Student Association.