Last week, reminders of the state of terrorism that existed throughout the South in the 1960’s were brought to the forefront with the 50th anniversary of the Birmingham church bombing. The Daily Beast has an interview with Carolyn McKinstry who survived the bombing and lost her friends that day.
Earlier this year, the Tuscaloosa News and more recently, NOLA.com offers a little known connection to the day’s events: John Coltrane’s haunting ‘Alabama,’ written in response to the sadness of the occasion. A radio documentary named “Tell Me How Long Trane’s Been Gone” overlays parts of ‘Alabama’ with Dr. King’s eulogy.
This event was a reminder of the distance still yet traveled to the realization of Dr. King’s dream. He spoke at the eulogy, 3 days after the event. He finds motivation in the tragedy, reflects on the “amazing democracy about death” and offers consolation for the grieving family and community.
They have something to say to every minister of the gospel who has remained silent behind the safe security of stained-glass windows. They have something to say to every politician [Audience:] (Yeah) who has fed his constituents with the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism. They have something to say to a federal government that has compromised with the undemocratic practices of southern Dixiecrats (Yeah) and the blatant hypocrisy of right-wing northern Republicans. (Speak) They have something to say to every Negro (Yeah) who has passively accepted the evil system of segregation and who has stood on the sidelines in a mighty struggle for justice. They say to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution. They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers.
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May I now say a word to you, the members of the bereaved families? It is almost impossible to say anything that can console you at this difficult hour and remove the deep clouds of disappointment which are floating in your mental skies. But I hope you can find a little consolation from the universality of this experience. Death comes to every individual. There is an amazing democracy about death. It is not aristocracy for some of the people, but a democracy for all of the people. Kings die and beggars die; rich men and poor men die; old people die and young people die. Death comes to the innocent and it comes to the guilty. Death is the irreducible common denominator of all men.
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And no greater tribute can be paid to you as parents, and no greater epitaph can come to them as children, than where they died and what they were doing when they died. (Yeah) They did not die in the dives and dens of Birmingham (Yeah, Well), nor did they die discussing and listening to filthy jokes. (Yeah) They died between the sacred walls of the church of God (Yeah, Yes), and they were discussing the eternal meaning (Yes) of love. This stands out as a beautiful, beautiful thing for all generations.
Source (block quotes): MLK Papers Project