Friday, April 27, 2012

Birthday Lady: A Voice, Stilled Too Soon

"I still hear people say that I should not be talking about the rights of lesbian and gay people and I should stick to the issue of racial justice. But I hasten to remind them that Martin Luther King Jr. said, 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.' I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream to make room at the table of brother- and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people."

"Gay and lesbian people have families, and their families should have legal protection, whether by marriage or civil union. A constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages is a form of gay bashing, and it would do nothing at all to protect traditional marriage."

"Hate is too great a burden to bear. It injures the hater more than it injures the hated."

I hope you'll forgive the briefest interruption of our usual frivolity for a moment's genuine admiration.  Coretta Scott King would have been 85 today, and it's a damn shame she's not.  We need her now more than ever.

It must be surpassingly hard to be what, for for nearly forty years, Mrs. King had to be:  a professional widow.  She did it with unfailing grace and courage, neither afraid to fight for recognition of her husband's work nor shy about pushing forward her vision of his legacy, in ways that, especially in her final years, put her at odds with a sad number of people in the civil rights movement.

Of all the burdens she bore, the one we perhaps think of least is that her public role essentially overwrote the private woman: her steady gaze, her unchanging look (eternally a lady, as if to say she had no other need to show that she was, not just as good as, but if she chose quite better than, thank you), her knack for quiet inspiration, all more or less hid the woman above - did you know that she sang, and apparently sang very well indeed?

In just this image, you can see that she was a singer with the gift of giving to her audience something of the joy she felt in singing; that's rare.  Coretta Scott King used her voice in ways that helped to change the world, but I can't help but think about the other voice, the one that went unheard.  I'm grateful for her sacrifices; aren't you?

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