Monday, January 16, 2017

What would we have thought some half century ago with building lit for MLK?

I happened to be in downtown Chicago on Friday night, along Michigan Avenue to be exact, when I noticed the downtown buildings that like to light themselves up for special occasions were at it again.
Celebrating King memory similar to a sports victory. Photograph by Gregory Tejeda

For amongst the many colors intended to give the city skyline a touch of whimsy was the Blue Cross/Blue Shield building at 300 E. Randolph St., which was lit up in blue and white with giant several-stories high letters spelling out “MLK.”

SURE ENOUGH, IT was the beginning of the weekend in which we commemorate Monday the birthday anniversary of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., who come April of next year will have been gone from our midst for half a century.

King is one of those names that has ceased to be a living, breathing human being. He’s just an image that people use for whatever purpose they choose – rather than for anything King may have said or done during his lifetime. I encountered one news story published this weekend whose point was to say that King as a child was an ordinary person, and something of a prankster.

I once heard an activist say that King had become nothing more than a marketing image. It wouldn’t shock this activist to someday see someone try to sell blue jeans with the King image.

Truly gaudy. But not out of line with the way some marketing campaigns for various products have gone.

SO WHAT SHOULD it mean to us that Monday is King Day across this nation – even though in some Southern states they try to rebrand it as Great Americans Day with people like Robert E. Lee being included in that list?
KING: More than just a hedshot

It’s not a surprise that some people would feel that way. Just look at our recent presidential election that some amongst us will never get over or accept.

For some, that idea of “Make America Great Again” may very well include the idea of downplaying this day because they’d rather not recall the images of half a century ago when King felt compelled to challenge the segregated way of life that existed in part of the country – and that many in the rest of the country was more than willing to accept as just the way things were.

We in Chicago can’t really claim to have been any better. We were, after all, the place where King, himself, got hit in the head with a brick (the Marquette Park rallies).
King drawing a crowd to Soldier Field for a 1966 housing rally. Photograph provided by Richard J. Daley collection at University of Illinois-Chicago.

AND WHERE MANY of us have parents and/or grandparents who fondly remember the image of then-Mayor Richard J. Daley standing up to King and his demands for equal housing for all. As though King's political defeat in Chicago was something to be proud of.

Unpleasant images. We’d rather not have to be reminded, if at all possible. And it’s definitely not something that many of us want to be called out on.

Just like many of those who a couple of months ago cast their votes for Donald J. Trump’s presidential bid. They either support the racial hang-ups of the most extreme Trump-ites, or they’re willing to be on the same side as those people and certainly don’t want anyone criticizing them for it.

This King Day is one coming at a time when some people might have fantasies about turning back the clock to an era when certain types of people were supposed to know their place (which was secondary).

NOT THAT I think we’re going back that far. But it is something that ought to be contemplated by all of us. Lest we wind up forgetting the significance of what happened some 51 years ago when King himself spoke in Grant Park – located just south of the building now lit up with his initials.
A tragic day for many

I can’t help but wonder what King himself would have thought of the image of one of the giant Chicago skyscrapers that overlook where he spoke bearing a tribute to himself.

But then again, keep in mind those same buildings light themselves up for just about any occasion – most recently back in November when the Chicago Cubs managed to win the World Series.

I also don’t doubt that for some people, the Cubs’ victory (the first in 108 years) was something far more significant than anything King ever said or did. It’s no wonder Trump won!


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