The following was originally posted a year ago today, January 14, 2007.
West Side residents of Chicago now have a U.S. Senator who looks like them and it may be, in more ways than one, due to the man whose birthday we celebrate tomorrow.
Martin Luther King Jr. preached nonviolence to the oppressed. “Our weapon is love,” he told them, and he used it with stunning force.
At the dawn of TV, he brought into American homes images of peaceful Southern protesters beaten, driven with high-pressure hoses and arrested without fighting back. Their body rhetoric exposed racial hatred as never before.
Then, in 1966 Dr. King wrote for me about the apartment he had rented in Chicago’s slums to connect with gang members: “I was shocked at the venom they poured out against the world.”
He asked them to join Freedom Marches in Mississippi and they did in carloads, where “they were to be attacked by tear gas. They were to protect women and children with no other weapons but their own bodies…..
“They learned in Mississippi and returned to teach in Chicago the beautiful lesson of acting against evil by renouncing force...
“And in Chicago the test was sterner. These marchers endured not only the filthiest kind of verbal abuse but also barrages of rocks and sticks and eggs and cherry bombs...
“It was through the Chicago marches that our promise to them—that nonviolence achieves results--was redeemed and their hopes for a better life rekindled, For they saw that a humane police force, in contrast to police in Mississippi, could defend the exercise of Constitutional rights as well as enforce the law in the ghetto.”
It is not hard to believe that some of those young men Martin Luther King helped to grow up and away from their worst selves exercised their rights decades later in voting for Barack Obama.