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Prompted By Inequality

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On the evening of April 4, l968 my boyfriend called to tell me he had just heard on the news that Martin Luther King, Jr had been shot.   We cried together over the phone,  and during that call we decided to marry – our small way of bringing some joy back into a sorry world,  of defying the sorrow.

Many years later I found myself in Birmingham,  Alabama attending a school librarians conference.   The keynote speaker was Maya Angelou who addressed us in a huge amphitheater,  her distinctive voice filling the space.

She retold the story – familiar to us librarians – that she told in her memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings  including her childhood rape by her mother’s boyfriend,  and the following six years when she would not speak.   She had been traumatized by the violation,  and also guilt-ridden over the subsequent murder of the man who had raped her,  thinking her voice had caused his death.

In the years she was mute,  she told us,  she began to read,  and the devotion of her grandmother,  the encouragement of teachers,  and her own growing love of literature helped bring her out of her silence.

When a school competition was announced with each student to recite a poem by an admired writer,  Maya told her grandmother she planned to read a Shakespearean sonnet.   The old lady was appalled,   saying instead that she must choose a poem by a Black poet.   But Maya insisted,  “I have as much right to Shakespeare as anyone,  he wrote for me too.”

During my few days in Birmingham I visited the 16th Street Baptist Church bombed in 1963 by Klansmen,  and saw its memorial to the four little girls who were killed.

And I paid another emotional visit to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and saw a replica of the small cell where Martin Luther King was imprisoned and where he wrote his famous Letter from Birmingham City Jail.  

“I am in Birmingham because injustice is here.”,  he had written in 1963.

Sadly,  throughout our nation it is still.

– Dana Susan Lehrman

Profile photo of Dana Susan Lehrman Dana Susan Lehrman
This retired librarian loves big city bustle and cozy country weekends, friends and family, good books and theatre, movies and jazz, travel, tennis, Yankee baseball, and writing about life as she sees it on her blog World Thru Brown Eyes!

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Tags: Martin Luther King Jr, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
Characterizations: moving, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Powerful reminders of injustice in the world, Dana. But also how voices can rise up, bring hope and ‘we shall overcome some day”.

  2. John Shutkin says:

    Moving, wonderful thoughts, Dana. Thank you for sharing them with us. And, as we watch the trial on TV in horror, it is clear how true your final words are.

  3. Marian says:

    Yes, Dana, and having heard Maya Angelou speak in person, her story of her silence and finding her voice resonates. May all our voices be heard.

  4. Suzy says:

    Thanks for this moving story, Dana. How interesting that the King assassination led to your decision to get married. And lucky you, to have the opportunity to hear Maya Angelou in person.

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    Dana, that visit to Birmingham was on my pre-pandemic bucket list. Still hope to get there. My future husband and I were in a laundromat when we learned about Dr. King’s assassination. Everyone there was weeping.

  6. Beautiful description of life’s lessons learned. And one of the most profound marriage ‘proposals’ I’ve ever heard!

  7. Khati Hendry says:

    I read Maya Angelou’s book years ago, but had forgotten much of it other than that is was very moving. Maybe it is time to take another look. I imagine there will be many people who will never forget the day George Floyd was killed either. Sometimes good things come from terrible things. Thanks for your memories.

  8. Joe Lowry says:

    I agree with Maya Angelou, she wrote for me just as Shakespeare wrote for me.

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