Editorial: “We’ve Come So Far” by Dan Williams
Editor: The following is a reprint of Professor Mick Williams’s Martin Luther King tribute from 2009.
By Dan Williams
My name is Mick Williams. My byline today says “Dan.” Don’t panic, it’s still me. On this day, I’m choosing to go by another name. I will explain momentarily.
This is the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. But I don’t have to tell you that. You have, no doubt, planned your own somber family celebration to mark the occasion – candlelight vigils, circle readings of Dr. King’s words, vesting yourself in the purple clothes of mourning. I began Dr. King’s birthday as I always do, by remembering his martyrdom and crying until I threw up. When I finished, I somehow felt that I hadn’t done enough to honor the man.
That’s when I decided to change my name. Not permanently, but just for the day. I wanted to pay tribute to Dr. King by adopting a name that would signify my brotherhood with his race. In short, I wanted a “black name.”
I considered Antwon, Dontrelle and Keyshawn. I was leaning toward Antwon, and was just beginning to write this column, when suddenly I heard a curious sound. It was my heartbeat. But instead of the usual ker-thump, ker-thump, it was making a different sound: ra-cist, ra-cist! Never had one of my throbbing organs hurled such an accusation at me.
But then I examined my heart, and realized it was right. How dare I think that there is such a thing as black names! To suggest that is to impose limitations as real as the ropes that cordoned off huddled masses of slaves so that potential sellers might examine their genitals and teeth for crookedness. We all know black men named Steve. We all know white men named Tyreese. Therefore, I’m still changing my name for the day, but I’m choosing a name that’s race-neutral: Dan.
“We’ve Come So Far” is the title of this column. The cadence of that phrase is similar to the one Dr. King is best known for: “I have a dream.” In the 1960s, African-Americans had other four-word slogans that reflected their struggle, such as “I’m black and proud” and “Whitey is the devil.” Some will say that spirit is dead, but it’s not. Oh no, my friends, it most certainly lives on. The vocabulary has changed, but the four-word slogans of today are just as relevant as those of yore:
“Back that thang up!” comes the echoing cry from Lookout Mountain in Tennessee.
“It’s hot in herre!” rings from Stone Mountain in Georgia.
And from every street corner and every hamlet, from every ghetto and every episode of Maury Povich, there reverberates the proud cry that touches every man’s soul and makes every man’s heart skip a beat:
“He my baby daddy!”