By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Tag: Martin Luther King Jr.

On this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a reminder of the long road that is still in front of us

Photo (cc) 2023 by Dan Kennedy

My daughter, Becky, and I had intended to visit the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis last August the day after a trip to Graceland. A massive thunderstorm knocked out power to many thousands of customers, though, and the museum was shut down. Still, you could walk around the outside of the Lorraine Motel where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. fell victim to an assassin’s bullet. It was and is a somber reminder of the racism and violence that shook our country 55 years ago, and that are with us still.

Today we mark Dr. King’s 95th birthday, and it’s hard to know what he would think if he were still with us. Ten years ago, Barack Obama was beginning his second term, and we smugly told ourselves that the worst was receding into history. Now it seems like we’re moving backwards, with Donald Trump, an authoritarian and a white nationalist, possibly on the verge of returning to power. King’s hope for a more just and equitable society remains just that — a hope. What can we do to turn that hope into reality?

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When the Duke met Dr. King

I’m listening to the audio version of Terry Teachout’s 2013 biography of Duke Ellington, which has led me to seek out some Ellington rarities. One that I stumbled across is a 48-minute BBC documentary called “Reminiscing in Tempo,” which was first released in 1994. Apparently this is the second half. I don’t know if part one is available anywhere or not.

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, so I was especially taken with a story about the first time Ellington met Dr. King. Apparently each was awestruck by the other. It’s a nice story. And the film is terrific, with lots of archival footage. The video is pretty rough in some parts, but the audio is fine throughout. Just close your eyes.

“Reminiscing in Tempo,” by the way, is the name of an extended piece that Ellington recorded with his orchestra in 1935. Teachout doesn’t think much of it, but Ellington considered it one of his masterpieces. Give it a listen.

I also learned from the Teachout bio about “Black and Tan Fantasy,” a 1929 fictional film starring Ellington and one of his many paramours, Fredi Washington. It’s 15 minutes long and is absolutely wild. The video and audio quality are excellent once you get past the opening credits.

Update: I left out the link to “Black and Tan Fantasy,” but it’s now fixed.

Obama brings the heat, and Harris provides the light

I thought former President Obama and Sen. Kamala Harris offered an interesting juxtaposition tonight. Obama’s unsmiling speech was stark — appropriately so, given that we really are in danger of losing our democracy.

That gave Harris the chance to take a contrasting approach and end the night with a heavy dose of inspiration and uplift. And she delivered in the midst of an empty hall. You can only imagine what the reception would have been like if she’d been speaking in a packed convention center.

I also liked her reference to “the beloved community,” a phrase associated with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. that we hear in our church. It conjured images of a religious left, serving to remind viewers that the right doesn’t have a monopoly on faith.

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