by Georgia McDade
Dear Dr. King,
Your eyes are seeing and ears hearing what the Lord had in store for you. Your heart is full of what God had in store for you.
In the 52 years since your death much has happened. One time I say you know all about what has transpired; other times I say I’m glad you were not here to see. One of the biggest inventions is the smartphone. It is a massive computer that we hold in our hands. Its information is at our fingertips. The most amazing feature for me is the countless facts I can get in a few seconds.
As we commemorate your birthday—you know it’s a national holiday, the only holiday named for a black person—I find myself thinking about the speech you got out of a sick bed to deliver in Memphis, the one in which you said, “I’ve been to the mountaintop!”
I never think or say I’ve been to the mountaintop. I know you can use your perfect understanding, but in case someone else sees my letter, I want that person to understand. I count myself among the many African Americans who have had a number of personal successes. But so many people are at the bottom, have no hope of seeing, not to mention getting to the mountaintop. I can’t be comfortable with so many lacking the basics. Homelessness is common, especially in large cities. Our country has been through worse times, but it seems we may be working on surpassing that record! Joining the middle class is more difficult; remaining in the middle class is more difficult. Although the global rate for suicide has fallen, this is not true in the US. The rate has increased for ages 10 to 54 and especially for black youth. “Epidemic” is the word used to describe opioid addiction and overdoses. Mass killings—four or more killed—reached their highest in 2019. The average number of mass killings per day was 1.2 These and other homicides plague us.
The stress of living takes a toll on all of us, some much more than others. I doubt there are many who would disagree that living is more stressful for all of us now than in 1968. As the government gives the wealthy tax breaks, the wealthy want more of “their” money; the poor need more money; the middle class struggles constantly, longer, to remain where they are. A recent study says the wealthy live longer and have fewer unhealthy days! Yes, there had to be a study. The importance of earning a living wage remains mandatory for most of us not born into wealth. No one chooses poverty. All of us need food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and education long before any of us can provide any of these necessities for ourselves; missing any one necessity increases the stress, especially when we can comprehend our situation.
Of course, the addition of racism and poverty exacerbate the stress as attested variously by those who must live with the impacts. Something as basic as healthcare is not universal in our country although the number of countries without it decreases. Congresspersons whose earnings are $174,000 annually get some of the best healthcare in the world, yet many of them have voted more than 70 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, insurance that millions received for the first time. African Americans lead a variety of negative lists when health is the issue. Consider the fact that despite financial difficulties, some of us were able to purchase houses; now many of us cannot afford the taxes on those houses and are forced to sell them. And more children are living at home, returning home—sometimes with families—than ever before.
More of us are going to better schools be they vocational or academic but not always fulfilling requirements for various reasons. More of us have better jobs, but masses of us work in low-paying jobs, work two or three jobs and cannot support ourselves and families. Too many of us live in food deserts; the government rolled back nutritional guidelines for schools. Who cares that the school breakfast and lunch programs provide the healthiest meals some of our small citizens eat? Some of us thought some relief had finally come to the justice system in 1991 when George Holliday filmed Rodney King being beaten. This, we thought, would significantly reduce police brutality, would prove what had been recounted over the centuries. Then we thought the cell phone videos would prove what many blacks had been saying for decades. Still abuse and brutality stalk us. The result: mass incarceration. This in turn has often destroyed the imprisoned and their families. “Innocence projects” around the country have freed a few hundred persons, yet many more languish in prison waiting to be cleared.
No one will ever know how many were murdered by the state or died without receiving that justice listed in the Bill of Rights. Some cases get vast media coverage; many others do not. The Black Lives Matter claimed much news time—for a while, but it too so often seems most alive only in banners, cards, and T-shirts. Add to that the abuse suffered by so many women: #metoo and #timesup. Both exposed sexual harassment and assault; a few wealthy men paid a price somewhat because they were fired or resigned from their high-powered and high-paying jobs, but women most often subjected to such pain and humiliation are generally ignored. These women cannot walk away with settlements and confidentiality agreements. They certainly do not get contracts that make them financially comfortable. Trafficking abounds. The median income is certainly higher, but so is the cost of almost everything. Women make less than men in many, many fields. Unemployment remains a problem for far too many. Affirmative action is often called reverse discrimination. I wonder how many of the persons who proudly wear attire bearing the names of black athletes or love music by African Americans voted to accept Referendum 88.
The rich get richer; the poor get poorer. Yet there is no money for social programs that could make the nation a healthier place for millions. Immigrants—at least some—are less welcome, actually turned away or often imprisoned. Denial of voting rights is a tremendously huge problem despite how hard President Barack H. Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder work; this problem is not limited to the Southern states though the Supreme Court in a 5/4 decision said rules established in the Sixties are no longer needed. Now we learn 25 states—that’s ½—have instituted policies and procedures that reduce the number of voters, make it harder to vote. As was often common in the South, voter registration rolls have been purged.
Words such as “diversity” and “inclusion” are ubiquitous, it seems, but the reality is often neither despite the number of faces of color on television, the number of interracial families, and LBGTQ residents. Remember when Jet—digital now—could list every show featuring, not necessarily starring, a black person in a few lines on the last page of the magazine? (Our treasure trove Ebony is also digital, its photos gratefully purchased by a consortium formed by the J. Paul Getty Trust, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and donated to the Smithsonian.) “Privilege” rules and overrules despite the number who declare they lack privilege. Name a field; someone can point out the discrimination, racism. Something that should be easy—passage of the Equal Rights Amendment—is stymied.
Thirty-five states did not approve the amendment before the 1979 deadline nor the 1982 extension; this Department of Justice says the amendment cannot be ratified. There are the wars! President Barack Hussein Obama is the only U. S. President to take office as we fought in wars and left office as we continued, continue to fight. Eighteen years in Afghanistan, fifteen years in Iraq! Depending on the source of figures, the US has spent over $6 trillion on wars in the Middle East! All the time much of the infrastructure here, one example, is crumbling. Oh, and you have to hear about the environment! Climate change affects the planet—animals dead and dying, disappearing, weather temperature highs and lows in places that were never so hot or cold. Forests in burning Australia and California, sinking Venice, incomparable floods, dirty oceans, rising oceans, warming oceans! Fortunately, many in position to reduce the destruction carry on their work though the leader of the federal government sees a hoax.
Too many problems are systemic, another fact persons in power often ignore or, worse, fail to see.
We make such limited progress because on so many fronts we must spend so much time retaking hills, mountains we thought we had won. Sunday mornings at 11:00 a. m. continue to be the most segregated hour in the country, but probably less so.
Contrary to what this piece may lead you to believe, everything is not bad. I just happen to be writing on a day that my rejoicing level is low. Many of the organizations around when you were here work steadily, hard. Good, well-meaning individuals of all backgrounds do more than pull their weight. However, so many problems are systemic, and many of the persons who could alter the isms that stifle fail to see or pretend not to see.
I no longer wish to sustain the dream. I don’t want to overcome “someday.” I want to overcome today. I want to be wide awake; I want others to be wide awake. I want the view from the mountaintop to be one of real beauty. And, again, I want it now.
I hope not to see you soon. I have so much to do—write poems, articles, essays, and books, conduct interviews, teach classes. I want so much to get them done. I can understand why God would not be willing.
I’m taking a break now. This afternoon I’m seeing the film “Just Mercy.”
Georgia S. McDade
Georgia S. McDade is a fifty-year resident of Seattle and former professor of English. As a youngster she wrote and produced plays for her siblings, neighbors and church youth. A charter member of the African-American Writers’ Alliance, which meets regularly at the Columbia City Library, McDade began bringing her original stories to an appreciative public in 1991. She lives in the Columbia City neighborhood.