The Rev. Martin Luther King expressed the potent biblical truth that people should never be judged by the color of their skin but by what really counts, namely “the content of their character.”
Our American Revolutionary War rejected royal birthrights that legally conferred land and riches on a small group of DNA winners without any regard to competence or character. Instead, under a new system of freedom for most, those with the guts and effort, ability and knowledge (or capacity to learn), and good character showed by honesty and integrity, could all legally rise to the top. “The top,” under this new system based on individual rights, proved roomy and waiting for the deserving.
Some Americans, however, no matter how talented, willing and honest, were legally barred from entry to that room by government. Even 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, they remained barred from certain public restrooms, water fountains, schools, seats on public buses and, in the Carolina Theatre in Greensboro, N.C., anywhere but the third balcony. Explaining the separate entry to my cousin visiting from Pittsburgh proved quite a challenge for my mother, who gathered signatures to put the Republican Party on the ballot and who regretted not having had prior knowledge of the (first ever) sit-down demonstration at our downtown Woolworth’s store (now a national museum to the civil rights movement). She would have joined the students.
At 64, I look back on my life — 11 pivotal years in Greensboro from 1955 to 1966 — and wonder at the fallout from a compromise made by politicians in the late 1700s. Government so easily breeds inhumanity and restricts rooms at the top for only the “chosen” to enter.
King put himself, his faith and his forceful personality into a peaceful, nonviolent revolution to right wrongs in large part perpetrated by government. He is remembered for so many quotes — and my favorite: “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” The inclusiveness and humility of that statement says it all. May his legacy live inside us and let freedom ring!
Beverlee Roper, a lawyer, is a Platte County commissioner.