The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. always reminded us that we’re not isolated individuals. Each of us belongs to a society that is shaped by our many individual and collective choices. If we respond to hatred and violence with hatred and violence, we bring more of both into our world. When we accept injustice, we encourage it to flourish. He championed love as the way to bring equality, brotherhood and justice into our world.
Here’s some of what he had to say shortly after John F. Kennedy was killed by a gunman’s bullet in 1963. Two months earlier, he‘d eulogized four young black girls killed in a church bombing in Birmingham, Ala., as they attended Sunday school.
Five years later, he would be killed by a gunman’s bullet as well.
“Our nation should do a great deal of soul-searching as a result of President Kennedy’s assassination. The shot that came from the fifth-story building cannot be easily dismissed as the isolated act of a madman. …
“Our late president was assassinated by a morally inclement climate. It is a climate filled with the heavy torrents of false accusation, jostling winds of hatred, and raging storms of violence.
“It is a climate where men cannot disagree without being disagreeable, and where they express dissent through violence and murder. …
“So in a sense we are all participants in that horrible act that tarnished the image of our nation. By our silence, by our willingness to compromise principle, by our constant attempt to cure the cancer of racial injustice with the Vaseline of gradualism, by our readiness to allow arms to be purchased at will and fired at whim, by allowing our movie and television screens to teach our children that the hero is the one who masters the art of shooting and the technique of killing, by allowing all these developments, we have created an atmosphere in which violence and hatred have become popular pastimes.
“So President Kennedy has something important to say to each of us in his death. He has something to say to every politician who has fed his constituents the stale bread of racism and the spoiled meat of hatred. He has something to say to every clergyman who observed racial evils and remained silent behind the safe security of stained glass windows. …
“He says to all of us that this virus of hate that has seeped into the veins of our nation, if unchecked, will lead inevitably to our moral and spiritual doom.”
From “The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.,” edited by Clayborne Carson