It goes without saying that civil rights have an important and lasting effect on economic development and opportunity, which is something that the writers of this blog support for all people. I had the opportunity today to speak with my friend and colleague Professor Raneta Mack about the matter of Mrs. King's passing and her legacy. Her thoughtful comments appear below. I hope you will enjoy reading them as much as I did. Thanks, Raneta.
I know we talked briefly about this topic this morning, but here are a few more thoughts –
Is she the quintessential African American woman? I suppose it depends on how you define quintessential. If it means a model or example for us to follow, then I would say yes. She was a woman who essentially had a role thrust upon her simply because of who she married. She was then cast as the “mother” of the civil rights movement in the wake of her husband’s untimely death. Yet, she never sought the spotlight (like a Jesse Jackson), she never engaged in high-profile angry attacks against the government (like an Angela Davis), nor did she ever seek political office to exploit the black community (like many other folks from the civil rights movement). She could have done all of these things, and she would have instantly had the national spotlight upon her.
Instead, she was a mother, a woman of strong faith, and a good person who believed in peace and justice. She established the King Center in her husband’s memory to carry on his legacy. She embodied a quiet courage, which she needed in the aftermath of her husband’s death to help deal with not only being a widow and a single parent to 4 children, but also to deal with the fact that people were looking to her to pick up where her husband left off. I imagine her sadness, overwhelming grief and confusion after his death. She could have stepped into her husband’s shoes, but she chose not to. She fought the good fight in her own way, and I commend her for that.
I once asked my own mother (who is a bit younger than Mrs. King) why she didn’t get involved in the civil rights struggle. After all, my mother grew up in Chicago where there were ample opportunities to become active. My mother said, “I was too busy raising children.” Somehow I imagine Mrs. King might have wanted to say and do the same thing, but recognized that she couldn’t. So she gave what she could while still keeping a bit of herself.
Of those associated with the civil rights movement, I admire Mrs. King immensely. President Bush referred to millions of children now living in a better, more welcoming country because of the Kings’ work. I am one of those children, and I am deeply indebted to those who put their lives at risk and died so that I could live in a better America. Indeed, that’s what makes me most angry about black youth today. They have no sense of history, no sense of the personal cost paid by their ancestors. Many of those in the civil rights movement knew that the road was long and that they might not personally live to see the benefit. Yet, they sacrificed themselves for those coming after them. Unfortunately, many have squandered those opportunities.
Maya Angelou expressed her grief and admiration for Mrs. King in a particular way, and I doubt whether people will take it literally. Instead, what I hope people take from the comment is this: With so many negative “role models” capturing the national spotlight, we tend to forget those who live a life of quiet goodness based upon an abiding faith in God. That’s something we should all aspire to.