I’m not a carpetbagger. Although I was born in Minnesota and lived in Connecticut, Delaware, and New York, I moved to Miami (Deep South) in 1974 and, until this year, lived in South Florida. Now I am a resident of Southern Alabama. It is beautiful in this sleepy, small town on the Gulf. So, imagine my surprise when I found out Alabama and Mississippi were the last two Southern states to honor General Robert E. Lee and Martin Luther King, Jr. on the same day. I have nothing against Robert E. Lee, the human being who fought for what he believed in, states rights. However, he violated his oath as a U.S. military officer to defend and support the Constitution, and his leadership in a terrible cause (slavery), led to the deaths of some 750,000 soldiers and 50,000 civilians in our bloodiest war.
My book, A Fresh Cup of Tolerance, aims to heal the religious and societal beliefs that divide us, North and South, male and female, Republican and Democrat, Christian and Non-Christian, straight and gay, young and old, white and black, and so on. This is a day that needs healing. By any standard, Dr. King was an immense figure in Civil Rights and Human Rights. His was a clarion call to action for all Christians and all people who believe that we are all God’s children, equal and equally beloved in the eyes of God. If a White Supremacist conspiracy had not assassinated him, he would have been 94 years old today. Unfortunately, this is not history for many of us. It happened in our lifetime. As a young college student at the University of Delaware, I was deeply saddened by his death. I wore a black armband that day, and when I returned to my fraternity that night, I found horrible notes posted on my door, starting with “Nigger Lover.” Until that moment, I had never realized Delaware lies below the Mason-Dixon line and that Southern Delaware was as Deep South and racist as any state in the Old Confederacy. I was the fraternity chaplain, and that night I spoke up at the weekly meeting and affirmed I could not stay in a fraternity that so disrespected another brother’s beliefs and the tragedy of Dr. King’s assassination. Despite my friends’ pleas to stay, I walked out and never returned.
There is a simple principle at work here. One man was a champion for justice and racial equality, and the other was the standard bearer for slavery and “tradition.” They do not belong on the same day or even in the same century. Dr. King was considered the Moses of his generation. Leading his people (and all of us) to the dream of a better, freer, and more just society. Our country was founded on the roots of racism, but the beauty of our Constitution and our democracy is the striving for “ a more perfect union.”
The Alabama I see today is very diverse. Whites, people of color, Hispanics, other ethnicities, and LGBTQ living as neighbors. The young people I teach at the university are certainly more open to an America that accepts all people. I look forward to the day that General Lee is quietly retired to his place in history and Alabama joins the rest of the nation in celebrating the life and work of Dr. King, a modern-day hero and trailblazer.