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Aisle Seat: MLK Day Brings Uneasy Reflections

Updated: Jan 27

By Naomi Serviss / New York City



As we commemorate


Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

my emotions are all over the place.


Grateful his iconic legacy abides.


Ashamed I live


in a country


STILL DEBATING voting rights.


Angered by hypocritical politicians


(are there any other kind?)


purporting to love America


while gerrymandering voting districts


and undermining democracy.


What’s wrong with these people?


Have they no shame?


Rhetorical questions.


Imagine Jerry Seinfeld


asking in abject desperation:


“Who among us,


in their right mind,


would be against voting rights?”


I can hear a relative defending it.

“It’s complicated,” she’d say.


It’s not complicated.


When the Voting Rights of 1965 passed,


Dr. King described it


as a second and


final Emancipation Proclamation.


Would that it were!




D.C’s Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom


on May 17, 1957


drew between 15,000 and 30,000 people


to hear the civil rights leader


deliver his first national address


on voting rights.





He urged America to


“give us the ballot” six decades ago.


The more things change…



In 1969, I was a 10th grade social studies student


in Roy Buri's class


at Cheltenham High School


in Elkins Park, Pa.


A byproduct of his teachings was critical thinking.


Buri encouraged challenging authority.


Especially during the Vietnam War and civil rights years.


He provided us daily with the New York Times


and kicked off serious debates


about social injustice.


We talked about civil and voting rights.


A never-ending conversation in any decade.



Our spirited discussions centered


on Martin Luther King' Jr.'s


nonviolent civil and voting rights leadership


and LBJ's compromised voting rights legislation.


Buri encouraged us to question authority


and actively support social justice reforms, à la King Jr.


He sat on an empty desk in the front row and talked to us


like we were people. Some teachers thought he was too chummy.


He wasn't.


That was another teacher.


He didn't try to be our friend. He wanted us to think.



Ironic that Dr. King


is honored with a federal holiday


as Congress disembowels the civil rights laws.


His son, Martin Luther King III,


was aghast after Arizona Senator Krysten Sinema,


a Democrat, defied common sense


in her Senate speech


refusing to adjust


the antiquated filibuster rule.


He accused her of


“siding with the legacy”


of white supremacy.


“History will remember Sen. Sinema unkindly,”


MLK’s son said.


Sinema’s speech


all but decapitated Democrats’ attempts


to pass election reform


and these two voting rights reform packages:


The Freedom to Vote Act and


The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act


There’s no happy ending. Not yet.


But every third Monday in January,


we pause to reflect


on the man whose


selfless passion for justice


ignited a movement


that is evolving still.




 






Naomi Serviss is a New York-based award-winning journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Highroads (AAA magazine), in-flight publications, spa and travel magazines and websites, including BroadwayWorld.com

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