Martin Luther King's Holiday

This week while visiting my uncle’s home,
a distant cousin asked “What did Mar-tin Lu-ther
King ever do to get a national holiday? He’d roam
around the country, always stirring up trouble further.

A lot of U.S. Presidents don’t even have a holiday!
Why should he?” Here was my chance to say this:
“Remember back in the 1960s in America, the way
the racial wars erupted, where both sides didn’t miss

any opportunity to bomb each other’s churches regularly,
how black and white communities became armed compounds
raiding and killing back and forth, until escalating dramatically
into open warfare consuming not only our major cities found

in the north and west but whole states down here in the south,
before the federal government sent in the Army to regain
control under martial law? No? Had from Dr. King’s mouth
ever come a call to arms, the results would have been insane -

hundreds of thousands killed, with a perpetual race war started,
continuing today. Instead, he employed only a peaceful plan -
never guns, never violence, from peace he never departed.
Against attack dogs, fire hoses, angry men with nightsticks in hand,

murder in their hearts, King and followers used courage and faith
in America. He held out a dream…and a mirror. He simply said
“We call ourselves a Christian nation…our time is growing late.
We are a nation of laws…don’t let justice in America remain dead.”

He forced America to find its lost soul, to find its true heart -
knowing that seeing itself reflected in his mirror would lead
America to eventually do the right thing. For this, for his part
in keeping the process peaceful, for not making the nation bleed,

Martin Luther King earned the Nobel Peace Prize…and a holiday.”
This I could have said. This I should have said. Looking back, I can
make excuses why I didn’t, why I let that cousin have his say…
Maybe I lack any of that courage that made MLK such a great man.

Harry Edward Gilleland      01.18.03