Whatever wisdom we think MLK would bring to this moment seems to often discount that he was assassinated on a balcony, taken from his wife, his children, his friends. Why do we think MLK would say anything other than an indicting statement of fact: “You killed me.”
It’s so much easier to think of King’s death as inevitable, as that of a martyr, a heroic end to a life of public service. We’d rather not consider the bullet that ripped through his face, entered his neck, and severed his spinal cord, causing a quick, bloody death on that concrete balcony. We like our pictures in black and white.
To feel what his wife felt; to feel what his children felt; to feel what his friends felt; to feel what his supporters felt is to invite pain over celebration, rage over rousing speeches, devastating loss over convenient platitudes.
Rather than think of King as a person, a husband, and a father, we like to think of him as the stone statue in DC—large, strong, unmovable. King’s legacy may be all those things, but he was human. He read lots of books, listened to lots of preachers, worked on the craft of writing and speaking. He was a human who laughed and cried, knew joy and pain.