Martin Luther King Jr, from Icons of the Civil Rights Movement, by Pamela Chatteron-Purdy
Today, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday, I’ve decided to celebrate by taking a look back at the work he’s known for, although this complex man excelled on many platforms.

No one can dispute the importance of Martin Luther King to the US civil rights movement. He was its guiding star and its most revered martyr.

Through King’s example and his teachings, hundreds of thousands of ordinary and  unknown people pushed the movement ahead with a myriad of simple acts of personal, peaceful protest.  Ultimately, they got legislation they wanted, acknowledging and guaranteeing civil rights on many – but not all – fronts. If those folk are still around, they know who they are, and we know they can’t help but think of those difficult days every year about this time, then again in April and August.

Although the US still has a long way to go to reach justice and equality for all, much has happened since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Our children and our grandchildren would find it difficult to believe what life was like for black people less than 50 years ago, when King was alive and pursuing his dream. But, I remember and so do many Birds readers, so I believe it's important to share those memories.

For an expanded essay on King’s life and the impact he had on the US, go here and then here to Some Thoughts on the Legacy of MLK, parts 1 and 2.

If you remember, won't you share your stories, too? Please hit Comments above, and leave them for all to read. You don't need to leave your email address. 

I hope you don’t mind, but I’m republishing six short pieces I ran last year about civil rights and early 1960s sit ins. Maybe they will show you how Martin Luther Kind figured into the lives of those who were young in the 1960s.

Four posts are about life in and around Washington DC before the 1964 CRA, including a collection of my own memories. One of the four includes some incredible news footage of demonstrators trying to exert their right to eat or shop where they wanted. Music and prayer were integral parts of all the demonstrations I went to, so I’ve included a link to relevant music, performed recently by a few icons of the movement. The last post takes you to a collection of art saluting  all civil rights leaders as real icons.   

It’s a good day to remember Martin Luther King Jr and the legacy he left all of us.  If he were alive today, I think King would be proud of what the civil rights movement accomplished, but not satisfied with the status of a lot of unfinished business. 

A Martin Luther Kind memorial is being built on the Mall in Washington, DC. Not only will it honor a great man, but It will retell his story and help us listen more closely to his important words. For more on the memorial, go to today's Washington Post at



01/17/2011 16:03

Thank-you Paula for featuring my "icons" on your Blog! My husband and I are writing a book titled ICONS OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT, Connecting the Dots. We are looking for an agent and have submitted several queries. My Icon of Fannie Lou Hamer was just published in the Tikkun Magazine, winter 20011. My Icon of Goodman Chaney and Schwerner will be used in a 3 Vol. series called The City of Promises: The History of Jews in N.Y. City 1654 to the present; the book is due to come out in 2012. Feb. 2011 My "Icons of the Civil Rights Movement" will be shown at The School of Social Work at Simmons College. We will be talking aboout our book on Feb. 9th. Peace and Justice, Pamela

01/17/2011 18:46

Those were the days, my friend
We thought they'd never end
We'd sing and dance forever and a day
We'd live the life we choose
We'd fight and never lose
Those were the days

Poignant and beautiful posts - every single one of them. I don't think I could have endured some of what you did during your marriage at such a young age. Thank God for your friend but how sad it must have been for you to lose him. A courageous man.

01/17/2011 22:13

Paula, Your post/re-post taps into many parts of my own life. As a teenager in St. Louis in a fervid CORE-connected family, my experiences in the movement occurred earlier than yours--sit-ins at segregated restaurants, integrating a public swim pool.

At Oberlin College in early 50s was surprised by segregation in that town and northern Ohio. Much later returning there with a faculty spouse, pregnant with first child on day MLK was murdered...town went a little crazy, more surprise.

On to Baltimore 1969 after the riots where spouse taught at Morgan State, historically black college. Racism everywhere, now justified by many who were angry that African-Americans had acted on all their pent up anger.

We have never come to terms with the Civil War. With all the enthusiasm many of us experienced with Obamas election--a true miracle--we've learned how economic/social unhappiness has taken us backwards. I want better for my children and grandchildren as I know you do too.

Thanks for this powerful post--and keep on recovering from your surgery.

01/18/2011 07:49

Pamela -- Thank YOU for creating such stirring and memorable images of real heroes of our time. I'm sorry I missed the last exhibit of Icons in Amherst, but will pay more attention to the events calendar, and catch up with it somewhere. Best to you and your husband on your new book project.

tnlib -- Yes, those were the days, but I don't really want to relive them. I'm glad I survived and happy they're over.
And, yes, I don't know how I got through some of that stuff either. I guess I was too young to know better.

So often, when we hear of someone being murdered, we wonder if the victim precipitated his own demise. Since I knew what a fine person Jim Reeb was, I wrote this to dispel those beliefs, if they ever existed. Jim Reeb was not an agitator, but one of the most gentle and generous people on the planet. I hope his daughters find my tale and pass it on to their children.

Naomi -- I figurered there were some out there in the blogosphere with similar pasts, and you're the one! Our paths certainly were parallel, weren't they?

The older I get, the more I realize no event -- not even the Civil War, as you point out -- is totally disconnected to what comes afterward, as we keep discovering. We're not islands, and neither are our actions. We replay aspects of our memories and cultural memories throughout our lives, and must deal with whatever wounds are left open if we are to heal individually and move forward as a nation.
Thank you so much for sharing your story! If you ever want to write a guest post on Birds related to your civil rights activities, that would be great.


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