April 4, 1968 and The Virus That Remains
I write this letter on the 52nd anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, and to remember him amidst a major pandemic seems all the more pertinent.
The Coronavirus, or COVID-19, has dramatically and horrifically altered our lives. People anxiously anticipate the new normal that is to come for our nation and the world. This virus does not belong to any social class, race, ethnicity, or creed. Yet its defeat will take a concerted effort from every demographic, whether you are rich or poor, rural or urban.
And indeed, it seems our country needs two vaccines. We are in dire need of a vaccine for COVID-19. But that vaccine may do little good if we don’t also find a vaccine for the virus that slayed Dr. King on April 4th, 1968, and so many more during the Civil Rights Era.
Now that our nation has an alarming focus on epidemiology, I find it necessary to remind us that while we are fighting the Coronavirus, we must not lose sight of another virus that has ravaged our nation for over 400 years.
Since the founding of America, this virus has been responsible for the death of millions of African slaves and Indigenous peoples. Nevertheless, from the ashes, oppressed people and allies have always fought, revolted, and rebelled against the sadistic ways it forcefully tries to rob us of our God-given dignity and humanity.
This virus, determined to never die, even resulted in a civil war. On one side, there was hope that this war would be just the vaccine we needed. Yet only when things looked hopeful and promising, the virus mutated. It mutated so much that it appeared in new forms all across the country. It virally grafted itself into the hearts and minds of those who believed they needed it to survive, as well as those who had initially been allies. Not being able to find a cure resulted in the loss of nearly one hundred years of progress. And its mutation is the reason we needed Dr. King and all those who participated in the Civil Rights Movement in the first place.
In their era, they found themselves fighting for Rights that already belonged to them through the 13th-15th Constitutional Amendments. But the mutation of this virus is a tricky one. You must pay close attention to its behavior. It is continually looking for a way to reestablish its original form. Until it can, it remains steadfast, mutating into less obvious modern forms.
Its mutation has created the school to prison pipeline. It has perpetuated the shooting of unarmed people of color. And it has been found at our borders as migrant asylum seekers endure inhumane treatment. This same virus made its way into Mother Emmanuel A.M.E. Church in South Carolina, killing nine people during a Bible study. And it killed another eleven people at a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburg Pennsylvania — reminding us all that it will invade even the most sacred places and desecrate them. Furthermore, if you have not noticed in our current pandemic with COVID-19, this old American virus is hellbent on terrorizing our Asian American brothers and sisters.
I know many will read this and say, “Why are you talking about such an old virus that happened so long ago?” My response to them is simple: if you do not understand why I am referencing this ancient yet present virus, you are probably a carrier of it.
That claim may seem shocking to some. But given what we now know about viruses, people are often asymptomatic, unaware that they are carriers of the disease and infecting others without even realizing it.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and so many others worked tirelessly, even until death, to make this country great — for the first time. A Greatness Dream that can only become a reality through concerted efforts to find a cure for this much older, more insidious virus that still secretly infects the hearts, minds, and systems of American society. So while we fight to protect and save ourselves, our families, and our societies from the novel Coronavirus, we owe it to those who came before us to continue their fight for freedom. We must do everything we can to flatten both curves — so that we are all free from that which ails us.