A Quilt of Compassion

Martin Luther King Day 2019

Transpartisan Note #109

by A. Lawrence Chickering and James S. Turner

We celebrated Martin Luther King Day this year pursuing one of the great opportunities of the internet…surfing.  At “Martin Luther King Day” we found CNN Politics reporting ‘Trump laid a wreath Monday morning’ at the foot of the King DC memorial’ saying ‘”It’s a great day. A beautiful day. Thank you for being here. Appreciate it,” Trump told reporters as he stood before the large statue of King.’

From the MLK DC memorial we jumped to MLK Day coverage by the Southerner an online version of a Georgia high school prize winning journalism program.  ‘Published without interruption since Henry W. Grady High School opened in 1947, The Southerner has always been an essential part of the campus culture,’ says the school web site.  It quoted Georgia high school students saying:

“I think [Martin Luther King Day] is about people coming together from different backgrounds and finding solidarity to end the three things that MLK fought against, which were poverty, racism and militarism,”…

“The civil rights movement was the first surge of the youth getting involved and people really getting out to fight for their rights, and that’s happening again now, and I think it’s my part to come out and do it,” …

“We start off with Martin Luther King and his speech ‘I Have a Dream’ in 1963, …The change that came from that and the main message we got was justice and equality.”

Then we found Dr. Martin Luther King, Muhammad Ali and What Their Secret Friendship Teaches Us Today. King and Ali ‘shared a bond in their commitment against war and for social justice. It wasn’t a popular bond and it deserves to be remembered.’

This appeared in The Nation January 18, 2015.  It tells how the Muslim icon and the Christian martyr, with birth anniversaries two days apart, created a private personal bond after years of vitriolic public feuding.

‘The two men also appeared together at a fair-housing rally in Ali’s hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. There, Ali said, “In your struggle for freedom, justice and equality, I am with you. I came to Louisville because I could not remain silent while my own people, many I grew up with, many I went to school with, many my blood relatives, were being beaten, stomped and kicked in the streets simply because they want freedom, and justice and equality in housing.”…The boxer and the preacher had come together as one.’

Finally we landed on Billy Cristal giving an extraordinary eulogy at Muhammad Ali’s funeral memorial June 6, 2016 one day before the end of the 2016 Republican Party presidential primaries.  Crystal, ending his presentation for Ali (the only person to be heavyweight boxing champion three times) says:

That, my friends, is my history with a man and I have labored to come up with a way to describe the legend. He was a tremendous bolt of lightning created by Mother Nature out of thin air, a fantastic combination of power and beauty. We’ve seen still photographs of a lightning bolt, ferocious in its strength, magnificent in its elegance. And at the moment of impact it lights up everything around it so you can see everything clearly. Muhammad Ali struck us in the middle of America’s darkest night, in the heart of its most threatening gathering storm. His power toppled the mighty foes and his intense light shined on America and we were able to see clearly: injustice, inequality, poverty, pride, self-realization, courage, laughter, love, joy and religious freedom for all. Ali forced us to take a look at ourselves, this brash young man who thrilled us, angered us, confused and challenged us, ultimately became a silent messenger of peace, who taught us that life is best when you build bridges between people, not walls.

Crystal presents, to repeat, an extraordinary eulogy of a remarkable man well worth the fourteen minutes it takes to watch here or read here. If you find an additional quarter of an hour it is also worth watching Billy Crystal’s 1979 Muhammad Ali tribute – 15 Rounds (first posted on the internet 35 years after Crystal delivered it) with Ali’s reactions included in a continuous inset.

Our Martin Luther King Day voyage across the web opened us to a new appreciation of the complex interweaving of sensations—from the first Trump report to the last Trump illusion—contained by this remarkable country.  Dare we call them transpartisan?

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