This time last year, the world as we knew it looked quite different than it does today. And although issues like police violence against people of color aren’t new, the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many other Black Americans jolted our country in new ways last summer.
Stateside wanted to spend some time thinking about the activism that has shaped the past few decades, and the many parallels and differences between the civil rights movement of the 1960s and today’s movement for Black lives.
Today is not only the Martin Luther King federal holiday, but Dr. King’s actual birthday. Had he not caught that bullet on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel half a century ago, he might still be with us.
John Dingell, the longest-serving congressman in our history, is still very much alive, and sending daily tweets about the insanity that is Washington today.
Stateside's conversation with Lynne Settles, an art teacher at Ypsilanti High School, and Christy Witkowski, a senior at the school
There is extra special importance to this Martin Luther King Day in Ypsilanti.
Remarkably, it was 150 years ago on this day that abolitionist and orator Frederick Douglass spoke in Ypsilanti – one of three visits Douglass made to the town.
Today, Ypsilanti High School students are marking both MLK Day and the Douglass visit with a silent march to the site of that speech that happened in 1867. In commemoration, they’re also opening an art exhibit.
For many Americans, the life of Martin Luther King Jr. means mostly that they get a day off from work or school, a day in which the banks are closed and the mail doesn’t come.
They may also know him as a one-dimensional icon of the civil rights movement, who repeatedly said “I have a dream,” during some famous speech a long time ago, and also said, “I may not get there with you, but we as a people will get to the promised land,” and then got shot.
"Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred." - MLK
If you want a moment of reflection today, you could save this for 3 p.m.
At that time 50 years ago today, Martin Luther King delivered his "I Have a Dream Speech" on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. His speech came during the centennial of Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation.
Bell-ringing events around Michigan are scheduled for 3 p.m. today. The Michigan Department of Civil Rights is helping to coordinate these events.
Last year at this time, I was sifting through YouTube videos of Martin Luther King, Jr. and was amazed at the treasure trove out there.
For some, the man whose words are immortalized, who we celebrate with a holiday, seems untouchable - buried in the pages of history books.
But when you watch these videos, Martin Luther King, Jr. comes to life. As I mentioned last year:
We can watch video of his interviews on Meet the Press. We can see King tell a joke on a talk show. We can see what he said in a speech the night before he was killed, and we can watch Walter Cronkite tell the nation that the man who helped change our society was dead.
Here's another video I came across today. It includes excerpts of an interview King did with NBC correspondent Tom Petit. The interview aired on NBC on May 7, 1967 as part of its program "The Frank McGee Sunday Report: Martin Luther King Profile."
During the interview King explains his reasons for opposing the Vietnam War.
He says he decided to publicly oppose the war after several months of reflection - part of that reflection, he says, took place in Jamaica as he was writing a book.
"I came to the conclusion then, that I had no alternative but to take a vigorous stand against the war."
King said the Vietnam war "is doing a great deal to destroy the lives of thousands and thousands of my brothers and sisters. We are dying physically in disproportionate numbers in Vietnam, some 22 and four tenths percent, even though we are only 11 percent of the population."
The video ends with a excerpt from a speech King gave in Cleveland on April 28,1967 about his decision to oppose the "evil war" in Vietnam.
He says, "And no matter where it leads, no matter what abuses it may bring, I'm gonna tell the truth."
In Lansing, volunteers are clearing invasive plant species from the Fenner Nature Center. Brendon Fegan is an Americorps volunteer. He says helping your local community is a great way to honor Dr. King’s legacy.
"Community is vitally important in people’s lives," said Fegan, "You can’t do anything without a strong community. Look for anyway to give back to your community and help other people.”
The King holiday is also being marked by marches and church services around Michigan.
The recent attempt on Representative Gabrielle Giffords life sparked new debate about the state of public discourse in our country. How could this have happened? What does this type of violence say about us? Have we reached a breaking point?
As the news rolled in, and it appears the violence might have been the work of a mad-man, hearts were still broken, but there seemed to be some relief that the act seemed less about our politics, and more about a lost soul.
Events like these are unsettling, and it often makes me wonder what it was like for Americans when the violence was more directly tied to our political discourse.
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King was shot and killed in Memphis in 1968. Violent riots followed in what surely must've felt like an unraveling of American society.