Thursday, April 23, 2009

The world of experiences

by sunny kulathakal

He was profusely sobbing when he came home that day. The mother of that black boy ran to him, held him to her bosom and wiped his tears. The heart of the mother was broken and she was eager to know the reason of his grief. His sobbing was escalating. Tears swelled in her eyes too. Gradually his sobbing subsided due to the mother’s cajoling.

“Martin, what happened?” she enquired

“Jimmy and Tommy are told not to play with me”, he somehow answered amid sobs.

She could easily imagine that his sorrow broke its limits due to the instruction of the parents of the two white boys who has been his playmates for the last few years not to play with him any more obviously in the name of colour difference. Though he could be pacified for the time being, she knew very well that she could never completely heal the wounds inflicted by the incident in his innocent heart.

That boy who later came to be known as Martin Luther King also wanted to a few more things. The mother could only keep her head turn away before his queries like: Mummy why not I could study in the school where the white boys are going? What is wrong in going to Churches of the Whites? Why not we could also eat the food at the restaurants being run by the whites? Mummy, why there is white and black markings in movie houses, public toilets and resting places?

She was pleased at the inquisitiveness and vigilance of her son born on 1929 Jan 15 at Atlanta. A kind of maturity, discretion and extraordinary curiosity about life and its problems beyond his age was explicit in him. However she became deeply concerned about his future thinking about the bitter experiences of a community which was being subjected to discrimination in the name of colour and denied a dignified existence. Placing him in her lap she kissed him repeatedly. She felt it was no more correct on her part hide from him the realities of the existing social system. She told him the stories of the centuries old salve trading, internal strife and how Abraham Lincoln put an end to slave trading. Thus Martin came to know many things like the fact that there were Negroes along with George Washington in Volleyforge; it was a black seafarer named Chrispus Atex who became the first martyr in the Black’s fight to free themselves from the hegemony of the British, it was a Negro named Benchamin Banekar who set up the Capital city of Washington and it was Negroes who played a major role in freeing America from agonies of colonial domination and elevated the country to one of the world’s big powers by sweating their blood and getting lashes as the only reward for their risky jobs and strenuous physical labour like filling ponds and building houses. It was only that day he came to know that one among ten Americans is a Negro. But it was more than ten percent that the Negroes were contributing to the economy of the country.

That young heart might have been pained at the humiliation meted out to the Negroes who are eligible to share the rights of the nation built up by the sweat and blood of their predecessors. He felt a kind of contempt towards the whole society. His tiny face became dark blue at the realization that he too was destined to breathe the poisonous air of that society which was contaminated with hatred and anger. His young heart craved to bring a great transformation in the society by spreading the pure air of happiness and peace.

His mother who always tried to reassure that he too is a good soul like any other used to take extreme care about his future. Knowing quite well that colour discrimination was certain to have its adverse impact on the individuality and growth of a person, she took extra care to, keep him away from such perils and afford him her loving protection. Unlike many others in the black community her son never had to encounter much of a financial difficulty. Still he suffered an emotional breakdown even at the young age of six due to the rampant discrimination in the name of colour. A long list of such experiences can be discerned from his real life. Against the wishes of his parent s that their son should never be a victim of such discrimination in the name of colour, yet another incident occurred when Martin was eight. That was in the presence of his father. The bold stand taken by the father helped to instill more confidence and courage in him. His father Michel Luther took him to a big footwear shop to purchase a shoe for him. He knew that the owner of the shop who is a white would not relish his presence. They sat in one of the vacant seats in front of the sales counter. Then a white clerk approached them and commanded them in apparent contempt to sit in the verandah. It was great shock to his self respect. Still he did not complain and responded coolly and with a bit of sarcasm “we don’t have any particular inconvenience in sitting here and in fact we love sitting here”

The clerk who became virtually pale at this response still scornfully commanded them to sit in the verandah. Michel proved that the members of the King family are not the kind to obey such a command. Either we will buy footwear sitting here or else we don’t buy at all” he said stubbornly. Noting that still there was no change in the attitude of the clerk, he took his son’s hand and went out of the shop in anger. Martin was closely watching the change of expression in his father’s face. He had never before seen his father becoming so much emotional. The firm resolve of his father that he would never budge to this wretched system and would fight against the same added confidence and guts to the humanist in Martin. As a result of which he was able to evaluate his relationship with the world around him in a realistic perspective.

An incident which motivated Abraham Lincoln who spelt the death knell of slavery in America is worth noting here. It was a scene of a Negro woman being auctioned in a New Orleans market. The scene which was worst than what could be seen in a cattle bazzar hurt Abraham Lincoln’s heart deeply. Placing his hand on the chest, he pledged that if he gets an opportunity to eradicate this system, he would do it with commitment. And he had done it. Martin who had read the biography of Lincoln also took a similar pledge. However it has to be nd seen in the course of years how much impact Martin Luther’s work had on the American society especially as he had not gained the same recognition as Lincoln had in the society. Still he could boldly take up the causes of his fellow brethren boldly and mange some success during his life time.

The Bus boycott agitation of Montgomery can be cited as a stern step of Martin Luther King. It was ever since that both the whites and blacks could travel in buses with equal right.

The bitter incident at the footwear shop only helped to strengthen the unshaken will power of Martin. It also helped to impart the courage and passion even to sacrifice his life for the people of his community in the following years.

We could see in Martin a lighthearted soul which could not withstand the difficulties and sufferings of others even before he was 13. There were at least two incidents which led him to the verge of committing suicide. Once his brother slipped from the staircase and fell on Grandma who became unconscious in the impact. Thinking that she died and there is no meaning in living anymore, he jumped from the second floor of the house. But by God’s grace, nothing serious happened. The Grandama died only after living some more time. This time also he jumped from top of the building but escaped miraculously. These incidents prove that he didn’t have the mental grit to withstand the pain of others since the very childhood.

Martin’s mother was born in a clerical (priestly) family. She had a happy childhood. She had her education in the best schools and colleges. As such Martin had a great love and respect for her for having grown up in atmosphere not tainted by the problems of discrimination in the name of colour. But his eyes used to swell with tears thinking about the sufferings his father had undergone. He was a direct witness to many of the agonies his father had undergone due to the difference in colour. Hence it was not surprising that he emulated his father who always used to raise his voice against the discrimination in the name of colour since his very childhood. Solid sincerity, courage and capability were the assets he inherited from his father


In martin’s memory was yet another incident that proved that his father was not a person who would blindly kneel before undue powers and pressures of a wrong social system. It happened when he was traveling with Michel in a car. He jumped a red signal unknowingly. It was a wrong committed unintentionally. A policeman rushed to the car and asked “ye kid, show me your license”. For this Michel replied that “I am not a kid and pointing to Martin who was with him, he added, “he is a kid, but I am a man. Unless and until you address me accordingly, I will not mind you. The white policeman never expected such a reply from a black. He disappeared from the scene realising that it would not be nice any more to hang around.

Martin knew about many of the bold steps taken by his father even before he was born. Michel who had witnessed the cruel torturing of a group of Negro bus passengers, decided not to travel anymore in town buses. Martin knew that he had taken that decision because he considered the pain of others as his own.

Since many years before Martin’s father had taken the initiative to organize several agitations for getting justice to the Negro community. He successfully solved a burning issue of the Negro teachers in Atlanta. The demand was of equal wages for the black teachers on par with the white teachers who have the same academic degree and doing the same job. It was not an easy one. In fact Michel was engaged in a struggle risking his life. He managed to organize the local Negroes and sachieve many of the demands of the teachers. The incident also showed the paramount role of the locals in securing the genuine rights of the teachers. Martin’s father was also the main character involved in removing many of the hurdles that faced the Negroes in getting justice from the courts of law. Martin used to recall the contributions of his great forefathers towards the uplift of the Negro community.

Martin also had a good knowledge of his father’s childhood. Once Michel accompanied his father when he went for settling a debt with the landlord. He thwarted the attempt of the land lord to fool his father who was poor in arithmetic. Just because of questioning the landlord they had to move away from the particular place.

The young Martin was influenced by the history of many of his ancestors. There are records about the revolts organised by Williams, the grandfather of Martin against the injustice of the whites. He once organised a widespread campaign to boycott a newspaper which published a statement that Negroes are illiterate and ugly. Responding to his call as many as 6000 Negroes stopped subscribing to the paper. The Negroes relented only after the editor admitted the guilt.

Michel once narrated an experience that hurt the heart of Martin. He became more pained at the incident which was taken from the very life of his father. It happened during the childhood days of Michel. His mother had worked in the house of a white neighbour. One day when mother was late to come home he went to that house. That time the white children of that house were having their evening coffee inside. He wanted to have snacks with them. His friends invited him to share the refreshments with them. But the white lady of the house shut the door after placing two pieces of bread and sandwich in his hand and asking him to have them outside the house. His self respect was wounded like anything. He threw away the food on the spot and declared looking at the bricks of that house “one day I will also build a castle like this”.

This childhood experience of his father made him think more deeply. Martin who went to bed with a deep wound in his heart could not sleep. He wandered for long in the world of thought. Who is responsible for the agonies of crores and crores of the people belonging to his community? Whose sin has caused it? Whether it is the result of the sin committed by some blacks? His parents tried to console Martin who was craving to create an atmosphere conducive for the growth of the inherent good ness of his people by wiping off the inequalities and colour discrimination. They knew their words would not be sufficient to console him. They did not make any attempt to nip in the bud the revolutionary seeds growing in him. They were proud of their son who was counting the stars shining in the sky while clinging to the bosom of the father. While watching him with curiosity they felt some kind of an electrifying joy. Then their attempt was to pour some more revolutionary thoughts in his mind. His father tried to narrate the story of the 16th century renaissance taken place in Europe in a realistic perspective to him. Children usually drift into sleep hearing stories. But in the case of Martin, the story his father told him only kept him awake. In fact he eyes became more alive. His eyes lit up. Eyes glued to the face of the father Martin was listening to the story. When he listened to the revolutionary movements and the changes brought in the Church by Martin Luther of that period generated a desire in him to become another Martin Luther. He didn’t mind to represent the same as a plea to his father. His wish to change his name to Martin Luther King from Martin Michel King was granted by the parents. Martin who later came to be known as Martin Luther King Junior propagated and put into practice his revolutionary ideas with more vigour than that shown by the Martin Luther of Europe.

Grown under the guidance of his father who was a priest and mother who was a teacher, martin had clear planning about his future since his very childhood. During family prayers every morning and evening Martin was entrusted with the responsibility to read certain portions of the Bible.

Even during the childhood his peace loving nature was very explicit. When friends used to quarrel and physically hurt him he always made it a point not to have patience and not to retaliate. Once when he had been subjected to physical torture and verbal abuse for having an accidental physical contact with a white woman’s feet he was only passive.

The child in Martin who lived through a lot of complex and unforgettable experiences grew up. Then his efforts were to view old things in a new perspective. He was convinced that every where around him there was only discrimination in the name of colour. He realised that just because of the difference in colour many who are talented could to reach the levels they deserved. He was fully aware of the difficulties faced by the blacks in traveling in buses, having food at hotels and making use of public facilities.

He entered the academic world with a determination to put an end to all these.

Trans: saj mathews