Author: Daniel, Bert


Todayís national holiday is a very special day with an anniversary twist this year. Some of us baby boomers can look back fifty years to a time when Martin Luther King, Jr. was in his heyday. This past summer we remembered the March on Washington and Kingís famous ďI Have a DreamĒ speech. Fifty years seems like such a short time. Perhaps thatís because those memories are so vivid. Kennedyís assassination. The war on poverty. Troublesome times those were for sure, and the escalation of the war in Vietnam would make the times even more difficult.

Martin Luther King was a troublemaker. A lot of people didnít like him. He ushered in a period of intense social upheaval, generational conflict, senseless loss of life. But his was the voice of reason and he spoke with such eloquence that it changed a lot of peopleís till-then closed-minded thinking about race and class. I know. I grew up in the south during the 1960ís. With his words alone, Martin Luther King changed everything. What reasoning person could argue with the proposal that human beings should be judged by the content of their character rather than color of their skin?

Kingís revolutionary ideas went beyond racial bias. They made you think about cultural bias and class distinctions as well. What can we do to make it possible for anyone with a dream to reach his or her full potential? Kingís dream was the American dream.

Last Sunday I went to the Community Baptist Church in Santa Rosa for the first time ever. The church sponsored a speech contest for middle school and high school students who had written about Martin Luther King for their school projects. My daughter Juliet went as the representative from Healdsburg. Her speech was great and of course my favorite, but all the kidís speeches took me back to a time when I was growing up in the turbulent sixties.

The ideas expressed by the young orators had seemed like very new ideas to me in the sixties, but I realized as I listened to them all that the idea of social justice takes many forms and it is never new. It just needs a voice, and these kids were expressing those ideas in ways that meant something to them personally. For example, many mentioned the recent police shooting of Andy Lopez here in Santa Rosa. (For those of you who havenít heard that story, Andy was a 13 year old boy who happened to live on the tough side of town and he was killed because he was carrying a toy gun that looked like an assault rifle).

The Santa Rosa Community Baptist Church caters to a mostly African American clientele. if I lived closer, Iíd be tempted to go there even though Iíd be much paler than the average worshiper for sure. The members of the congregation were very friendly, served great chocolate cake, and they played some really good music! One of the bands sang a cappella Gospel tunes. It was sublime.

I donít know if Martin Luther king ever enjoyed Bluegrass music or Old Time music. For all I know he thought of the traditional song Down In the Valley as he sat in the jail writing one of his famous speeches:

Send me a letter, send it by mail
Send it in care of the Birmingham jail

King certainly enjoyed gospel music. Mahalia Jackson was often on the stage with him. Iím sure he heard some incredible live music in his day. When I think about Black Gospel music, I think about a comment my nephew made when he was about five or six years old. My brother had taken him to a funeral for the mother of a family friend who had worked for our family many years. Both the mother and daughter had sung in their churchís gospel choir so, although i wasnít able to attend the funeral, I can imagine the music must have been pretty good. The comment from my young nephew after leaving the ceremony was something like: ďDad, that was the BEST funeral Iíve ever been to!Ē

Black Gospel is different from most of the Bluegrass Gospel you here. If youíve listened to a lot of Doyle Lawson, some of the stuff youíve heard is pretty close to what it should sound like. As we all know, music has the power to create a feeling we canít express. It has the power to move us; to inspire us. Words can change us, as lyrics set to music or as impassioned rhetoric that makes us think about how we need to treat our fellow man. Happy MLK Day everybody!
Posted:  1/20/2014

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