There is a typo on a statue of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Alabama. It’s in front of Brown Chapel, where the famed march from Selma to Montgomery began in support of voting rights. I was there a couple years ago to interview Joanne Bland who was on that march with Dr. King when she was 11 years old.
The statue says, “I had a dream.”
The line from his famous speech should read, “I have a dream.”
Past tense or present? It’s a big question as we decide how we will move forward as a nation. What is it we honor about Dr. King on this day? Is that dream simply a passage we read about in our history books? Or does it continue to be relevant today?
I’m getting ready to bring the exhibit down to Memphis. We will install it at Rhodes College as well as the Center for Transforming Communities. I’ll speak with students, business leaders, and community organizers. As always, I’ll go to share stories, but also to hear them, because every time I take time to listen, I learn.
One of my stops will be the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968. I’ve been to the museum twice before and it’s powerful. I’m honored that Terri Lee Freeman, the President of the National Civil Rights Museum, wrote the foreword for our new book. On this day that honors Dr. King, I’d like to share her words.
“We are living in perilous times. Times when too many have become comfortable with hateful rhetoric, demonizing and marginalizing others. Times when tragic, senseless violence is instantly available to us through social media. Times when conflict is rooted in fear, hate, and a lack of understanding. Our communities and our nation have a heart problem. We have not yet learned that love is far more powerful than hate.
We are nearly 50 years past the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who dedicated his life to peace and justice for all people. The civil rights we document at the National Civil Rights Museum focus on the racial rights of his era, but the civil rights of today include race, gender, faith, sexual orientation, and more. Ultimately, as we look at civil and human rights, it’s the humanity that we seek.
Today we are a far more diverse society than we were in the 1960s, yet our tolerance for diversity, and more importantly, inclusion appears to be decreasing. We must find ways to look each other in the eye, and seek humanity. We must look beyond the profiles—skin color, blue uniform, sexual orientation, religious affiliation—and recognize our human connection. We must come to terms with our differences and recognize that those differences should enhance our connections rather than stifle them. We must move beyond tolerance to genuine concern and care for all if we are to find peace.
In 2016, we lost a great voice for the human spirit and for peace, Elie Weisel. In his words, “At critical times, at moments of peril, no one has the right to abstain, to be prudent. When the life or death or simply the well-being of a community is at stake, neutrality is criminal, for it aids and abets the oppressor and not his victim.”
With A Peace of My Mind: American Stories, John Noltner responds to an increasingly divisive world with humanity. Every person has a story. Every individual wants to be heard. In these pages you will find a beautiful collection of photographs and narratives from the American experience built around the desire for peaceful solutions and outcomes to societal and personal strife.
These portraits of everyday people with stories that we can relate to are incredibly compelling and pull you in to the individual’s situation and circumstance. This work will tug at your heart and your sense of humanity. Some of the stories will make you nod your head in agreement. Others will cause you to shake your head in shame.
A Peace of My Mind will make you question why violence and hate remain so prevalent in our society. It will make you consider your role in helping heal the wounds of history and bridge the differences that are far too often given more weight than is appropriate. It’s difficult to digest this work and remain indifferent.
As the baton has been passed from the icons of yesterday to each of us, we must ask ourselves, how will we respond? A Peace of My Mind is an encouraging stimulus to action.
Dr. King once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Let the stories in these pages reveal the promise and value in each of us.
—Terri Lee Freeman, President, National Civil Rights Museum