What’s up family?
This day is always a somber one for me; it’s a day that I don’t let slip by without giving some thought or consideration because it’s just too important. On this day, 45 years ago, on the catwalk outside Room 306, the world was forever changed. So today I’m going to share what April 4th means to me.
That’s not a stock photo, but this is a picture that I was fortunate enough to take. Back in May of 2011, I was invited to join my professor, and his father, on a road trip to Memphis. We were there for a funeral service conference, but he didn’t leave us cooped up in the hotel. He got us out to see the sights of Memphis. As a member of the Church of God in Christ, you would think that I have been to Memphis countless times, but I had been there only once before. We (My sister Kim, my father, and myself) drove 16 hours to go to Bishop G.E. Patterson’s funeral in 2007. We got there before the service started, about 6 AM. Then after the service, we drove 16 hours home. I don’t think we’ll be doing that again… But this was my first time to see Memphis as a tourist and I was able to take in the sights, the sounds (blues), and the food. YOU MUST GO TO THIS PLACE TO GET SOME CHICKEN:
Gus’ World Famous Fried Chicken – 310 S. Front Street, Memphis, TN. Believe it or not, I have not had that chicken since I went in 2011. But I made it a point to remember the address. I don’t have to look it up. The chicken is that good.
I promise this post isn’t about chicken….I digress. But the Lorraine Motel was converted into a Civil Rights museum. I would encourage anyone that is able to go, to do so. It was such an eye opening experience of the entire movement and culminated with the death of Dr. King.
We often see pictures of Dr. King giving speeches and leading marches. But these images are some that I don’t want people to forget:
So here are some of my reflections on these images. The first may be a point of view you might not have considered. But with aspirations of being a funeral director one day, and ironically traveling to Memphis for a funeral service conference, the thought did cross my mind about the amount of pressure that the funeral director would be under to have to prepare the body of Dr. King. I’ve seen some large funerals and I know the nervousness is there, but nothing can compare to this. I could only imagine standing over the slain body of a leader of this magnitude. The preparation aside, I would just wonder if I would be able to hold myself together.
Interestingly enough, I remembered a story airing on my local news channel, WAVY-TV 10 about the embalmer that prepared the body of Dr. King. He broke his silence for the first time almost 41 years after he performed this daunting task. Not to get to technical, but the official cause of death was: “gunshot wound to the chin and neck with a total transaction of the lower cervical and upper thoracic spinal cord and other structures of the neck.” Here is a drawing from The [US] House [of Representatives] Select Committee on Assassinations Investigation of the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.. This drawing is based off of photographs taken during the autopsy:
This image shows that Dr. King had extensive damage to his face and neck. What this translates to a lot of funeral directors is: “Closed Casket Funeral.” But R.S. Lewis, the undertaker responsible for preparing Dr. King’s body, knew that this man meant a whole lot to so many people. He knew a closed casket wouldn’t do; there were 20 million Negroes in the country that would want to see Dr. King one last time. So he did, in my estimation, and humble opinion, a masterful job, considering what he had to work with. Click here for the article or you can watch this short video interview with Mr. Lewis:
So my first reflection is how important funeral service providers are. It is with the works of their hands that people are able to start the closure process with the departing of their loved one. But this video is proof that all funeral directors are morbid people removed from emotion. I’m touched by death myself… Yesterday, I visited the graves of my late Cousin Flossie, my Great-Grand-Ma Virginia, my former pastor, Bishop Clark, his son Dr. Clark, and his aunt, and my special friend, Aunt Clara. Death hurts and when it is somebody so loved and so revered…you can’t help but to feel something. But I wanted to pay some respect to Mr. Lewis because 45 years later, I still think that he did an outstanding job. Oftentimes, funeral directors, or undertakers (the old school word that I prefer), work behind the scenes and don’t often get credit for their work. He did a wonderful job… But his rationale for coming forward is how I will segue into the thrust of my reflections on today…
Mr. Lewis pretty much said that he came forward because he didn’t want anybody to forget that Dr. King died. That in and of itself is such a poignant statement…take a minute a reflect on that.
Consider this: Nature prefers the paths of least resistance. Imagine a small stream and you but a boulder in it. What will happen? The water will find the path of least resistance and either flow around or overflow. Our bodies are created the same way. When you think of how your circulatory system works (that’s your heart, arteries, capillaries veins, etc.), it is a closed system. If you can look at your hand right now and see no bleeding, then that system is working as it should. But the moment a finger get’s poked or you scrape a knee, that closed system is now open. That opening provides no resistance, so you bleed. We tend to go after the things that are the easiest to cope with. The things that are easiest to understand. But the fact of the matter is as long as life is in the body, whether you bleed or not (whether the system is open or closed), that doesn’t stop the blood from flowing.
Here’s my point. It’s easy to remember pictures of Martin Luther King alive. We can sing wonderful songs about him. We can pick up trash in the neighborhood on his holiday. We can quote his speeches and get filled with sorts of Black History Month nostalgia. That’s the path of least resistance. It’s friendly. It’s likable. It’s tolerable. Just to say his name, to some, is supposed to bear significance. Listen to this following track. I apologize in advance for the vulgarity of the language, but receive it in the light that I’m delivering my message:
I had heard this song before…when it opened up with, “Martin had a dream.” I knew that it would end up going down hill from there. And it did. In disbelief, I continued to prowl YouTube in search of this “Backseat Freestyle,” and I saw that Kendrick Lamar performed this in the UK. One of the comments on that particular video was something to the effect that this rapper got people in the UK to say, “Martin had a dream.” I’m sorry, in my estimation, that wasn’t a “we shall overcome” moment. It’s easy to just think about Martin as a living individual and reminiscing on the dream he had. But it’s through the path of resistance that strength is gained, events are appreciated, and truth is revealed. As great as it to know that Dr. King lived, it means more to me that he died. And that’s one thing I wish our entertainment sector would remember.
To all of those bragging about how many cars you have, how many b**ches you pull, how much money you have, how fly you are…place yourself on the catwalk outside of Room 306, at the Lorraine Motel, on April 4, 1968, at 6:01 PM. At this time one shot rings out. The leader you were just talking to is now laying on his back. His knees are bent, his feet are tucked under the railing, he has a gaping wound in is face and neck, he’s sinking into unconsciousness he’s laying in a pool of his own blood. Once you place yourself in that situation, at that hour, on that day, how relevant is the money? How important is the womanizing? How much does it mean to you to drink and smoke away millions? Does that matter at all? His blood, along with so many others, was shed so we could have an opportunity to excel…but degrading our women, filling up jails, and murdering each other? Is that why he died? To brag about how rich you are when the people supporting you might not have enough money to make rent…is that why he died?
It is important that he died because I realize why. And to ensure that he didn’t die in vain, I have to do more than throw his name in a rap song. I have to do more paint an orphanage on the third Monday in January. More is required from me. What is required that I take advantage of the opportunity that his blood, and blood of countless others, purchased…not by taking advantage of others. Not by misguiding others. But leading others, especially the youth, down a path where they can make this country even greater. That’s what April 4th means to me. This is the path of resistance, but it’s by the this path that we can empower the future generations to make the most of what Dr. King and others died for.
I don’t want people to forget that he lived, but I certainly don’t want people to forget that he died and why.
There’s one more thing about death…my father pointed this out Resurrection Sunday. The seed has to be buried in order to bring forth life. From the death and burial of Dr. King, I would like to think that new life can be brought. Please don’t think that I’m esteeming him as a god, but follow my logic. The new life I’m speaking of is an appreciation of past struggles and stride for higher heights. I’m not speaking of just the material, but the mental and cultural capital. A new life that makes the lives of the generations to follow better than what w enjoyed.
In closing, I just want to encourage you not to forget the importance of this day. The path of least resistance is to look out for one’s self, but on this day, I challenge you to take the path of resistance and reflect on how you can help somebody else reach their full potential. Think of ways that you can help somebody else be great. With his act of martyrdom, Dr. King did just that for us. And I don’t take it lightly.
I hope I’m not getting ahead of myself, but my next post will have something to do about Blacks and the Democratic party…and a doctor that’s not afraid to speak… He’s been making headlines here lately. Do you know who I’m talking about? Until the next time…
TWJ the HNIC