There is a bitter sadness and special irony that attends the passing of Martin Luther King. Quickly and with ease, we offer up a chorus of posthumous praise — the ritual dirge so time-honored and comfortable and undemanding of anything but rhetoric. In death, we offer the acknowledgement of the man and his dream that we denied him in life.

In his grave, we praise him for his decency — but when he walked amongst us, we responded with no decency of our own. When he suggested that all men should have a place in the sun — we put a special sanctity on the right of ownership and the privilege of prejudice by maintaining that to deny homes to Negroes was a democratic right.

Now we acknowledge his compassion — but we exercised no compassion of our own. When he asked us to understand that men take to the streets out of anguish and hopelessness and a vision of that dream dying, we bought guns and speculated about roving agitators and subversive conspiracies and demanded law and order.

We felt anger at the effects, but did little to acknowledge the causes. We extol all the virtues of the man — but we chose not to call them virtues before his death. And now

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, belatedly, we talk of this man’s worth — but the judgment comes late in the day as part of a eulogy when it should have been made a matter of record while he existed as a living force.

Rod Serling (1924-1975) American screenwriter, playwright, television producer, narrator
Letter to the Editor, Los Angeles Times (8 Apr 1968)
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Quoted in Anne Serling, As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling (2013).
Added on 19-Apr-22 | Last updated 19-Apr-22
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