It was the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And, it was finally time to talk in depth about him and the civil rights movement with her as she’s finally starting to connect with things that happen in the past.
I started by showing her a picture of him and simply stated, “This is Dr. Martin Luther King and he was killed because he was fighting for black people to have equal rights.”
Then, we watched and listened to a couple of his speeches, talking about what he was saying and also pointing out who was in the audience including only a small sprinkling of white folks. She wanted to know who killed him and why. I explained that it was a white man who thought that Dr. King shouldn’t be speaking, someone who believed that black people didn’t deserve what they were fighting for. I explained that back in this time, most white people believed this. That there were some who were fighting alongside Dr. King, but not many. That this isn’t so different than what we see today among so many white folks who don’t agree with today’s activists, both in their message and in their delivery. I shared that some of our family has fought for Dr. King’s legacy and that it’s our job as ancestors in training to carry forward this solidarity, but with more intensity. To take the legacy of our ancestors, both the harm and the activism, and to fight towards a better world.
She wanted to see more pictures of him and in the process of looking them up, we saw many other images that shared additional stories. She saw the police officers in the faces of marchers in Selma. She saw the fire hoses pummeling and dogs attacking activists in Birmingham. She saw the puddle of blood pooling around Dr. King’s body 50 years ago.
She asked if she could watch a video of his death. I said that one didn’t exist. She is constantly grappling with death and wanting to understand it, this is not the first time she has asked to see such pain. Since I said there wasn’t one, she asked if she could see a picture of a gun. I told her not right now. I explained that people have many different views on guns. That some people believe that we should have less of them, some believe that we should have none, and some believe that guns are important to have. I shared that I envision a world without guns one day. That maybe no one will find the need for them. I shared that I think too many people are dying from guns. That Dr. King wasn’t the only black man killed for his pursuit of freedom. And, I told her that one day we’d talk more about Malcolm X and Medgar Evers. I reminded her that I have trouble wanting people to have guns because people are getting them and killing themselves or others, including teenagers killing other teenagers.
I look forward to when she’s bigger and we can talk more beyond the facts and instead explore the reasoning. When we can talk about white supremacy, toxic masculinity, and the depth of structural racism. When we can talk about the whitewashing of Dr. King’s legacy and draw parallels to Black Lives Matter.
For now, she understands that things are not fair, that people don’t like others for reasons like the color of their skin. She and I again talked about race and what it means because she corrected me when I said that Dr. King was a black man. “But he’s brown,” she said. I told her that she is not wrong, that race is confusing and this is because white people made up race a long time ago in order to keep things in the hands of white people. I could see continued confusion on her face, as she doesn’t understand why any of this was done or how race really even works. It’s been hard teaching her the distinction of color versus race while also talking about how it’s all made up. And, also being sure that she knows that right now we need to talk about race so we can see the unfairness. Most of the time, she has trouble identifying race, but of no surprise, she can always tell who is white.
I could tell she was done talking, but as she walked away she said, “But it’s a good thing what those teenagers did the other day.”
She was talking about the March for Lives.
Every day I get to see the legacy of our ancestors grow.