Living History

January 18, 2023

Monday was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. For some, it’s a day off work or school. For others, it’s a day of contemplation and reflection. For Memphis, it’s a reminder that history unfolds right in front of us.

White Station Church of Christ was planted in its neighborhood in 1954. Just like today, many White Station people then lived in the community. They had no idea that their neighborhood would make world history. In the spring of 1968 two sanitation workers were killed on the church’s street, within walking distance from the building. Their garbage truck malfunctioned. It wouldn’t have mattered, but it did because they were in it. They wouldn’t have been in it if they could have sheltered under a neighbor's porch when it rained. They couldn’t do that because they were Black.

This tragic event led to the investigation of working conditions for sanitation workers, which ultimately led to a strike and a visit from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. While in Memphis to march with protestors, King was assassinated on the balcony of his room at the Lorraine Motel. 

I learned about King’s assassination from my earliest years as a child in small town Ohio. It took me years of living in Memphis to learn that the event that led to King’s death happened on our street. I had assumed it was closer to downtown. I guess we always assume history happens somewhere else. It never does; It always happens right in front of us. Hamilton might say “history has its eyes on you.” But we have our eyes on it as well.

If this is true, then we might ask how we should shape history?

Practice radical hospitality. In the story from 1968, the sanitation workers did not need a miracle to avoid death; they just needed a white family who welcomed Black workers to their porch or carport (better, their dining room). I want to be the type of person who proactively offers hospitality to those who need it most.

Live in the present. How many times do we miss what’s going on because we were preoccupied reliving something from the past? People who positively change history dream about the future and live in the moment. They don’t dwell in the past. Our devices tempt us to always be somewhere else. Our greatest effectiveness is always here and now.

Be courageous. Our legacy will not be enjoyed by our parents; but instead by our grandchildren. We are all thankful that some people were able to look out beyond their immediate story and boldly shape the future. Those are the people the history books remember. Our efforts should always ask the question of how we are leaving things to those who come after us.


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