© 2010 by Alice Walker
Although I have a presence on Facebook I’ve never joined. Learning recently of that “presence” I discovered there’s quite a bit, some of it unexpected. A recent post from NITESIDE magazine in Washington, D.C., written by Joi-Marie McKenzie was a surprise. Under the heading “Walker Reveals Moments with MLK, Jr.” she quotes me saying “I remember walking with Dr. King, bugging him to death and hoping he wouldn’t be shot in front of our eyes.” Following this is another wandering and odd observation attributed to me.
The event where Ms. McKenzie’s and my paths may have crossed was a recent reading and talk I gave at Busboys and Poets bookstore and café in D.C. The evening was video taped, which is reassuring, because neither comment nor observation originated with me.
I met Dr. King only once, when I was a student at Spelman College in Atlanta. I was a first or second year student; he was already a venerated leader. We shook hands after his talk, which had been stunning. Sent to King’s lecture by my Speech class professor, I had been cautioned not to write about what King said only how he said it. Later I would write about this in an essay “Choosing to Stay at Home” about returning to live in the South to be active in, and witness to, the Civil Rights Movement. I’ve revisited the meaning of our encounter, so brief, so potent, many times. I loved Dr. King and his wife Coretta deeply; while he lived, I followed them however I could, including being present (sitting in a tree far from the speakers’ podium) at the 1963 March on Washington.
I feel the smallest thing reported about the Kings, especially about Martin, should be as true as possible. I would appreciate this for myself as well. As a green and awe-struck student of eighteen, I wasn’t among the colleagues of King, the front of the march five or six, who could have “bugged” him “to death.” Also the place I feel most comfortable while marching, even today after countless marches, is in the middle or toward the back of the line, with the “unknowns:” those whose participation means the success or failure of any Movement, no matter who is leading it. I like the feeling of anonymous change; it is closer to how Nature works. Though I admire good leaders, I believe we lead ourselves, ultimately, and that what is required is a tuning in to what needs to be cut away and what needs to grow. Undistracted by our gadgets we can do this inner pruning and fertilization.
Quotation marks indicate that one is quoting verbatim. I’m hopeful our young journalists are learning this important guideline. As well as understanding that accuracy in recollecting a gift is a sign of gratitude and also of respect.