Each April 4th I mourn a man I never knew, wondering what would have been had his life not been cut short by assassination. Martin Luther King, Jr., reverend, civil rights icon, and practitioner of non-violent protest, was gunned down at Memphis’ Lorraine Hotel in 1968. The then 38-year-old had made an indelible mark on the ethos, conscience, and better graces of America. Like so many figures of that time, he paid the cost of change with his life.
MLK Jr. is no Jesus. He’s not my Savior, but he has so profoundly affected the quality of my life because of the battles he chose to fight. I could not be educated, married, or employed in the same way had he and countless others not tirelessly and bravely fought for civil rights.I wonder how he would respond to the issues facing the country today. If I could, I would ask him so many questions.
Would he still be a Republican?
What would he think of abortion rates among black people in the United States? The violence? I know how I feel after watching BET for an hour (or less, truth be told). What would he think of the hip-hop videos in heavy rotation right now--specifically women’s bouncing body parts, the glorification of violence and money earned by dubious means, the misogyny and cannibalistic feuding?
Would he be proud of the progress our country has made? Would he recognize the country he fought so hard to integrate?
How would he react when he first saw the face of our president? Would his expression change after reviewing Obama’s policies on war or the consequences for failing banks and corrupt investment firms?
I wonder who MLK would march for now. He died in the midst of fighting against Vietnam and for the rights of sanitation workers.
Would he march for the unborn?
Would he march for gay rights?
Would he still march for the rights of black people, or would he consider that a battle already won?
Would he march at all?
I would love to see Martin Luther King, Jr. on the Internet for the first time, to watch his expression after he was handed an iPad. I wonder if he’d be into Angry Birds, or if he’d get a Twitter account, or if he’d think the Harlem Shake was corny.
I wonder how many times he’d get stopped and frisked by the NYPD.
Would Martin Luther King, Jr. be comfortable or welcome in our evangelical churches?
I wonder whether he would be grieved or encouraged by a typical Sunday service. Whether he would be nonplussed. Would he still say Sunday morning is the most segregated hour?
I would relish the thought of hearing his perspective on gun ownership, since he was a victim of knife and gun violence, and yet a non-violent protester. I wonder what he would think about the theories about how slavery and the Civil Rights Movement would have turned out had black people owned more guns.
I wonder if he would have spent more time with his wife and children, given the chance to do it all over again.
I wonder if the current demographics of public schools would encourage the reverend? Horrify him?
Would he like his monument in D.C.?
Would Martin Luther King, Jr. be safe on the streets named after him? Would he even be recognized?
Who would he call his friends? Whose podcasts would he subscribe to?
If I could, I would ask him if he felt he had ever been quoted out of context.
I would ask him if he would be jailed, maligned, beaten, stabbed, and shot again, given the racial climate of his country 45 years after the Lorraine Motel. Were the results of 2013 worth the sacrifices of the 1950s and 1960s?
I would ask him if he still has a dream.
Sharifa Stevens is a wife and mother, singer, and writer. She earned a B.A. from Columbia University and a Master of Theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. She lives in Dallas.
Picture by Marvin Koner.