It’s Not About One Man, It’s About America—It’s About All of Us

A personal reflection from Paula Nourse, Director of Communications

It was Martin Luther King’s birthday.  The children of Dallas were on holiday from school.  A few days before someone asked me, “Why does one man [MLK] get his own holiday when there have been many great presidents who have to share President’s Day?  It doesn’t seem fair.”  I work at the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance so I practiced some–tolerance.  I allowed the question to smolder without offering a whisper of response.  The ashes from that smoldering question swept into my mind where they flicked and floated for days until they gently began to massage my unsettled thoughts.  

Many presidents, like MLK, lived amidst great controversy.  Many received death threats and four of those threats also became assassinations.
Many presidents struggled in a morally bankrupt, corrupt and destructive system, as did MLK.

Like MLK, a few presidents truly did leave the world in a better condition than they found it—for everyone and not just for some. One president in particular was a champion for justice and racial parity, as was MLK, and they had a great respect for each other. Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964 on behalf of President Kennedy who conceptualized it and who was a stalwart in defense of it prior to his death.  MLK was dedicated to leading a movement that would end in reforms for equality—peacefully, until his death. 

Not one president was jailed, but a couple should have been.  MLK spent some time in jails including the Birmingham jail where he wrote his profound Letter From Birmingham Jail.Many presidents left behind timeless and powerful quotes, as did MLK, whose voice had the smooth timbre of river rock, the power of a locomotive, and the sweet music of hope.  

So why, you ask, does one man deserve a day with his name on it? Martin Luther King was a member of an outcast and historically abused race of people. He was jailed for his peaceful insolence.  Yet in one short life time he moved a mountain and became a founding father for freedom and civil rights that made all Americans free.  He did this at a time when it was not legal but quite okay to spit on, bully and beat up a person of color– male or female, child or adult.  And, he included everyone, not leaving anyone out of what he wanted for the future of his country. He taught generations that there were alternatives when dealing with hatred, bigotry, inhumanity, and fear.

These facts and outcomes may never answer the question for some people and that is a little frustrating for some of us.  But those of who get it will stand up and peacefully defend the rights that protect those who are curious, the challengers’ and the naysayers’ freedom to keep asking that question.