By Dr. William Oliver Hedgepeth
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics Management, American Public University
If you were born in the 1940s or ’50s in the South as I was, some of those old days may still haunt you. The ghosts of the past that are now just old TV news stories or movies may linger in your memory.
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Each year, on the third Monday of January, the nation celebrates the birthday, life and accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose actual birthday was January 15.
How did you celebrate this day during Barack Obama’s presidency? Did you expect a new and brighter future as so many of us did? There was an expectation of a brighter, newer, and friendlier future for all Americans as well as newly arrived immigrants of all genders, races, and religions. How many more presidents will it take before Dr. King’s vision truly becomes our united American dream?
The Media Are Full of Stories of Tension about Race, Gender and Religious Beliefs
The media are full of stories of tension about race, gender issues, and even religious beliefs and assembly. There were similar tensions during my college days and first job in Washington, D.C., in the 1960s and ’70s. Following Dr. King’s assassination on April 4, 1968, riots and protestors were all over the D.C. area, with many parts of the city in flame.
I grew up with a generation that sought to carve out a better future through acceptance of all people. Despite the antagonisms and protests triggered by the Vietnam War, love was in the air. The frictions that MLK spoke of and died for are in the history books. But that final piece of his dream may have to wade through some muddy water for a few more years.
Two Powerful Words Erected a Wall that Separated People
I never knew Dr. King. But one of my Ph.D. professors who was white and from the South marched with him. I do remember two common words — Colored and Whites — from my youth that erected a wall that separated people. Those two words were over the water fountains in the local movie theaters. They were chiseled into the white marble Civil War water fountain monument in the center of my hometown.
I did live to see those two words disappear as the wall that separated my hometown came down. That wall was the train tracks that separated the people on the east side of the tracks from different people on the west side. For a long time, those tracks were an impossibly high wall to surmount for something that was, in reality, only a few inches of horizontal steel.
When I was just a new teenager, the Ku Klux Klan marched down the main street of my hometown. About a hundred or so men in white robes and pointed white hats paraded the length of the town. As they ended their march at the city library grounds, I was there. Just a kid with a camera. What could go wrong?
I knew that a few days earlier this group had beat up a photographer in another town. But I was a kid. The KKK leader, Robert Shelton, saw me and asked who I taking pictures for. He looked upset. I said the school newspaper. He started smiling and said to take as many photos as I wanted.
I assumed he was smiling since I was a white boy and taking my photos of him and his clan to my high school paper for publication. Those pictures are still in my office today in a folder. No one ever saw them.
Let’s Celebrate Dr. King’s Numerous Accomplishments
Dr. King said, “I have a dream that one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Let’s celebrate his accomplishments, which are too numerous to count. His dream of freedom did come true. But the seeds he planted still need to be watered with love and respect for us to have a wonderful spring, summer, and fall of our lives as Americans.
Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address ended with a “call to the better angels of our natures.” Let’s spend all four seasons of 2020 with Lincoln and King, thinking about us as better angels for our nation.
About the Author
Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth is a full-time professor at American Public University (APU). He was program director of three academic programs: Reverse Logistics Management, Transportation and Logistics Management and Government Contracting. He was Chair of the Logistics Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Dr. Hedgepeth was the founding Director of the Army’s Artificial Intelligence Center for Logistics from 1985 to 1990, Fort Lee, Virginia.