"I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it."
It is almost Spring, a time when mild temperatures bring homeowners outside to rake up old grass or tend to new flowers poking up their heads. But no one expects to find what Martin Luther King Jr. found on the front lawn of his new house in April of 1960 -- a burned cross. No one could pretend that it wasn't there. Even his young son, who stood at his side, seemed to know what is going on, his head downcast, his hand partially covering his face. However, clad in a dark suit, tie and dress shoes, Dr. King nonchalantly bent down and pulled out the calling card of the Ku Klux Klan. Most of us would not do such an act with nonchalance. Yet, given what the black civil rights leader had already endured in his young life, it was completely within his character.
Martin Luther King Jr. received dozens of death threats due to his role as a civil rights leader. In 1956, Dr. King's Alabama house was bombed, blowing the windows out and damaging the front porch. King was just relieved to hear that his wife and children were unharmed; speaking to an angry crowd after the bombing, he warned: "He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword...We must meet hate with love." In 1958, Dr. King travelled to New York City for a book signing in Harlem where he was stabbed by an assailant and rushed to the hospital. Death threats were part and parcel of his job: Dr. King would not be intimidated.
Martin Luther King Jr. knew the world was watching on that day that he found a burned cross on his lawn. If he had shown fear, he would have succumbed to fear. He would not have sat at a lunch counter and waited for his order to be filled while onlookers spat on him in 1960; he would not have written his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" in 1963 or delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech to a sea of protesters in Washington D.C. in 1963; he would not have marched over the Edmund Pettus Bridge to face a wall of Alabama state troopers on Bloody Sunday in 1965; he would not have faced the bricks, bottles and firecrackers thrown by a jeering crowd as he led a march through an all-white suburb of Chicago in 1966; and he would not have roused the crowd with his "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech in 1968, only hours before he was assassinated.
Yes, a burned cross wasn't exactly how Martin Luther King Jr. expected to be welcomed to the neighbourhood back in 1960. But his response spoke volumes.
"So do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:21)
Martin Luther King Jr. pulls a burned cross out of his lawn while his little boy stands beside him circa 1960 courtesy i.imgur.com.
*First published in 2014.