top of page

Aisle Seat: MLK Day Brings Uneasy Reflections

Updated: Jan 26, 2022

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

bottom of page