Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The impossible can happen

The memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr. has been opened in Washington D.C.

It's a very appropriate design - a wall of rock broken by the man.

The situation in Palestine can seem unending and without hope, particularly now as the Israeli government passes legislation that harks back to the Old South. But hope should never be lost. To see how the impossible can come to be, I want to quote a short passage from Taylor Branch's book, At Canaan's Edge, the last in his trilogy on the Civil Rights Movement.

The fabled summer of 1967 jumbled extremes of hope and horror, many of which penetrated King's life with special force. On Monday, June 12, the US Supreme Court struck down laws against interracial marriage in sixteen states through the landmark case Loving et Ux v. Virginia, which grew from a bedroom police raid and the subsequent conviction of Richard and Mildred Loving for cohabitation under pretense of wedlock.

Until then, Virginia declared void any marriage with only one partner classified white by its written legal standard: "such person as has no trace whatever of any blood other than Caucasian." Mildred Loving's ancestry blended Europe, Africa, and Cherokee Indian. Against Virginia's appellate courts, which found in the anti-miscegenation statute a legitimate state purpose to prevent "the corruption of the blood," "a mongrel breed of citizens," and "the obliteration of racial pride," the Justices ruled that a racial definition of crime violated Fourteenth Amendment guarantees of equal protection under law.

Their decision confronted sexual taboos long at the heart of violent white supremacy. Most Americans within a generation would find it quaint or fantastic that three-quarters of citizens in 1967 opposed inter-racial marriage, and not even the wildest imagination on record from the 1960's predicted that turn-of-the-century politics would divide closely on the rights of same-sex couples.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. might say, "How long? Not Long!"

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