Saturday, April 5, 2008

A homecoming celebrated and a homegoing remembered

As Ellie was gathering her belongings to come home from the hospital yesterday afternoon (amidst great rejoicing on our part, don't know about the hospital), the radio and TV news programs were all emphasizing the fortieth anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Memphis, Tennessee. I remember that time well. Those were unsettled days. The war in Viet Nam was raging. President Lyndon Johnson had just announced four days earlier that he would not seek and would not accept his party's nomination for a second term as president. And although Dr. King was a hero to the black community and had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, he was not universally loved and admired in white America. The director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, had been doing his best for some time to tie Dr. King in with the Communists. Still, the news was shocking. On the day after Dr. King's assassination, New York's Senator Robert F. Kennedy said poignantly, "What has violence ever accomplished?" and we all thought of his brother, the assassinated president. Two months later, Robert F. Kennedy himself was killed by an assassin's bullet. Two months after that, the streets of Chicago erupted in rioting during the 1968 Democratic Convention.

Maybe because I am a musician, what I remember most from the week of Dr. King's death are two songs that were sung during his funeral service, which was held at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta and nationally televised. The first song, "My Heavenly Father Watches Over Me," was sung by an alto who was obviously distraught; her rendition was emotional and powerful, but it was not an especially beautiful one. Then a first soprano sang with dignity and grace a wonderfully simple but soaring song that spoke volumes, "If I Can Help Somebody." In my estimation, it was the high point of Dr. King's funeral service. This song, written by Alma Bazel Androzzo in 1945, had been Dr. King's favorite gospel song. Its lyrics are as follows:

If I can help somebody as I pass along,
If I can cheer somebody with a word or song,
If I can show somebody he is trav’ling wrong,
Then my living shall not be in vain.

Then my living shall not be in vain,
Then my living shall not be in vain;
If I can help somebody as I pass along,
Then my living shall not be in vain.

If I can do my duty as a Christian ought,
If I can bring back beauty to a world up-wrought,
If I can spread love’s message that the Master taught,
Then my living shall not be in vain.

Then my living shall not be in vain,
Then my living shall not be in vain;
If I can help somebody as I pass along,
Then my living shall not be in vain.

Although some wondered at the time whether Dr. King's tragically foreshortened life had been for naught, history has shown that if ever a person helped somebody in America in the last fifty years, if ever someone's living has definitely not been in vain, that person was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Read some of his speeches, some of his sermons. Better yet, watch and listen to them. His eloquence is way beyond anything Barack Obama has said to date.

1 comment:

"JEANNELLE" said...

Thank you for these remembrances of Dr. King.

Glad to hear Ellie is back home again. May God bless her with a smooth recovery.