This past Tuesday may have been the quintessential display of a dichotomy. How history will juggle it remains to be seen.
For many, it has been and will continue to be April 4th, the day when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news that dark day 55 years ago – standing in front of my parents’ black and white television in our third floor apartment in Chicago. I cried like the baby I still was.
Dr. King, the most important American in our nation’s history. The man who saved America from itself by championing a nonviolent, peaceful transition from bloody Jim Crow racism to a more just, equitable society.
And this is ironic, considering that King knew that he would not die a natural death. “I’ve been to the mountain top,” he preached the night before he died, a Biblical allusion to Moses, the great Hebrew prophet who God didn’t allow to enter the land promised to Israel. “I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land.”
King’s cadence changed at this point, rising to a prophetic octave. “I may not get there with you,” he said. “But I want you to know tonight, that we as a people will get to the promised land!”
The audience responded with shouts of praise. “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!” King preached climatically. The audience shouted in spiritual ecstasy.
Still brings tears to my eyes.
King knew that he would die violently at the hands of an assassin. Yet he never wavered from his stance that nonviolent protest was the only was to change America for the better.
Thank God for his selfless sacrifice of his life.
For others, April 4th will take on a new significance. It will forever be the day that – for the first time in American history – a former president of the United States was indicted on criminal charges.
A New York grand jury charged Donald Trump, our nation’s 45th president, with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said Trump launched a “catch and kill” operation to keep damaging details about illicit sexual relationships out of the news cycle during the 2016 presidential campaign. The goal, allegedly, was to hide payoffs, including a $130,000 payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels.
Daniels alleges that she and Trump had an affair. Trump denies the affair, and pleaded not guilty to all charges.
What an interesting juxtaposition of two historical figures, forever linked by one date. One is easily revered. The other, easy to revile. And yet, as we like to say in the church, both are human beings made in the image of God. Neither is perfect.
Or to quote Dr. King himself, from his sermon Loving Your Enemies: “Each of us is something of a schizophrenic personality. We’re split up and divided against ourselves. … Within the best of us, there is some evil, and within the worst of us, there is some good.”
Trump revels in being as offensive and recalcitrant as possible. But if King is correct – and I believe he is – then even in Trump there is some good.
To be fair, let me concede that despite his many, many admirable acts of sacrifice and admonitions to love, Dr. King was no saint. Rev. Ralph Abernathy, perhaps King’s closest lieutenant, confirmed FBI allegations that King cheated on his wife, Coretta Scott King.
Dr. Michael Eric Dyson devotes an entire chapter to the allegations in his book about King titled I May Not Get There With You. Some are offended by such allegations and revelations. But I think Dyson did King’s legacy a favor.
He reveals King – who I believe is a post-Biblical prophet – to be just like the ancient prophets of the Jewish Torah and Christian Bible. These men – and a handful of women – were very human. Riddled with flaws.
Just like the rest of us. And it’s good that we get periodic reminders of this.
For better or worse, Dr. King and Donald Trump will be linked – at least by this date, April 4th. Two different men. Two different missions.
Both equally, schizophrenically human. Just like the rest of us.