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It shows the white owner of a Florida motel pouring muriatic acid into a whites-only swimming pool after several young black men jumped in.

It was 1964, at the height of the civil rights movement, and tensions about race were high.

But it remains difficult to fathom the treatment people faced simply because of the color of their skin. The photos of fire hoses being turned on marchers, the videos of mobs of whites attacking black men, women and children, the idea of someone pouring undiluted hydrochloric acid into a swimming pool (even if it was not enough to do any harm) - it doesn’t seem real.

It portends something that would happen in another place; not in a nation conceived in equality and opportunity.

The picture is not isolated. There are hundreds like it showing the struggle for humanity that took place a mere 50 years ago - and in many senses is still taking place.

At the center of this storm in the 1960s was a young preacher named Martin Luther King Jr. He urged non-violence opposition to the societal wrongs that still separated blacks and whites: “Whites only” lunch counters, water fountains and restrooms; unequal application of the law; segregation of schools.

He knew the dangers, living with constant death threats and seeing directly the hatred and anger visible in so many of the photographs of the era.

The irony is that his call for passive resistance would subsequently be met in the most violent manner of death possible: Killed April 4, 1968, by an assassin’s bullet.

In his passing, King gave the world something his detractors probably never imagined - a catalyst. More whites, already disgusted with the treatment of other humans, started to join the marches and rallies and challenge the way things were being done.

King, through his life and death, had forced a nation to look at itself in the mirror. For perhaps the first time, civil rights became an issue that was a part of everyday life because it was brought into people’s homes on the nightly news. No longer could the oppression be ignored.

We cannot allow that spark to be diminished. We cannot allow the sacrifices that were made to be forgotten. We cannot stop or even slow down the perpetual reach for equality.


January 18, 2014

(Peoria) Journal Star

The War on Poverty, success or failure?

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