Monday, January 15, 2007

Preserve MLK's legacy: Remember, learn, and teach history


As the 1960's recede into the past, it is vital that each American finds a way to remember, learn, or teach the history of the civil rights era. It seems that on Martin Luther King Day, those who remember Dr. King often forget how many younger people (including 38-year-olds like me, who were born after he was assassinated) need schooling. In church yesterday, we sang the hymn Lift Every Voice and Sing but there was no mention of the history of this song or the fact that it came to be known as the black national anthem. A few years ago, attending our church in California, our pastor led us in a hymn without passing out any music, saying it was to the tune of We Shall Overcome, as though we had all been marching alongside him in 1968.

I did a quick Census bureau search, and by my rough estimates, more than 65% of our current population is under age 45 and too young to remember Dr. King at all. I hope that teachers, pastors and leaders will keep sharing his story. The 14-part documentary series Eyes on the Prize provides a comprehensive, newsreel-based primer on the entire Civil Rights movement of the 60's. I saw the series in college and a decade later I still feel its power. Unfortunately, due to a copyright dispute, this series is currently available only in limited VHS-only distribution, but there is hope that a new infusion of grant money will clear up this situation soon and enable wider distribution. If you have TiVO, this is one to put on your recording wish list in the event that it is rebroadcast on PBS.

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