The Bridge: A King Sized Mistake

By Darryl James

I’m accustomed to having a divergent viewpoint, even though some people still get all strange and twisted reading my column.

But to those who still think on a regular basis, this piece should come as no surprise.

I’m a Brother of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s  illustrious fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, and I sharply disagree with something that people across the land are lauding as a monumental achievement.

Alpha Phi Alpha spearheaded the raising of more than 100 million dollars to erect a monument of our beloved Dr. King in Washington, D.C.

Some people are so proud that they are angry at any detraction from the celebration of such an accomplishment.

But I have no celebratory mood to offer.

I have no cheers or “attaboys” to contribute.

I have nothing but sadness and disappointment.

I am sad and disappointed for several reasons.

First, Dr. King was a man who placed his life on the line for improvement of mankind, not so that he could be lauded and celebrated.

He was a man who exemplified the true spirit of our beloved fraternity, in that he was a man who lived his life in service. He was a genuine spirit because he did so without seeking glory.

In his “Mountaintop” speech, Dr. King made it clear how he wanted his life and his contributions to mankind to be remembered:

“If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy…tell him not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize. That isn’t important. Tell him not to mention that I have 300 or 400 other awards. That’s not important. Tell him not to mention where I went to school. I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to give his life serving others. I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to love somebody.”

Yes, he tried to love people and that is what he wanted people to remember.

I remember when Stevie Wonder led the effort to get a national holiday in honor or Dr. King. Oh, how the people worked and oh how they celebrated when the day of celebration became a law.

But I also remember that over the years, the day began to lose its shine and its reason for people having a day off of work. Many people forgot about the reason for the day and began to forget about magnifying the works of our beautiful hero.

But there are other reasons why I have been opposed to the monument and why it saddens me to see it come to fruition.

I am disappointed because more than 100 million dollars were raised for a monument that will be great for children to visit, while millions of children are unable to eat and unable to afford clothing.

I am disappointed that 100 million dollars were raised for a celebratory rock, while millions of people are living between a rock and a hard place on the streets.

I am also disappointed that 100 million dollars were raised and that people will be sticking their chests out, while our collective war chest is empty—empty of resources and empty of promise for the future.

The 100-plus millions could have been employed for purposes that would have changed lives and made strides toward the dreams that Dr. King gave his life for.

Instead, we will have a rock that we hope will teach a lesson or two.

But the greatest lesson we could have learned has been ignored.

We should have learned that instead of seeking to idolize any of us, we should empower many or most of us.

But we keep waiting for a savior to do that for us.

Sadly, we are waiting, but Dr. King ain’t coming back.

Without a savior to guide us and die for us, we are divided and confused and so we rally around things that sound good, but have little substance.

Like the effort to memorialize Dr. King in the nation’s capitol with a piece of rock.

Many are angered and many more will be angered that I dare to oppose my beloved fraternity, and/or that I dare to oppose any effort supported by the masses of Negroes.

But the lesson I learned from Dr. King and from heroes like him, was to think for myself and to evaluate efforts based on the intrinsic goal and the intrinsic result.

The goal of this rock was misguided by people who have taken personal enrichment from the effort and the result is dubious given that empty impact the rock will have on people who cannot eat, and who have no place to live.

As a Black man in America, and as a brother of Dr. King’s fraternity, I hold his memory near and dear to my heart.  I try to live my life walking in the path he and other brave men and women blazed for me with their very lives.

I find it embarrassing that more than forty years after his death, the best that we can do is to erect a monument in his memory, while the memory of his dream is waking us up to a nightmare of broken promises.  We are waking up in a cold sweat to that same non-negotiable promissory note written to the sons and daughters of slavery in America by a nation that has never looked at us as full human beings.

Dr. King led a fight in the streets of America, forcing her to face her crimes against us in front of the world.  He was followed by millions of humans in this nation and around the globe.  He inspired us all to dream of a better world and to claim the right to have it.

A monument can not do that.

Forty years after The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated for daring to dream of a better world and for fighting for our right to have it, Black people have united to raise money for something that may make us feel good, but will do little to further the dream of the man himself.

My point?

Simply this:  We don’t need a symbol, we need something real.

Dr. King had a dream.

His monument may become our nightmare.

I believe it is a King-sized mistake.

Darryl James is an award-winning author of the powerful new anthology “Notes From The Edge.”  James’ stage play, “Love In A Day,” opened in Los Angeles this Spring and will be running all Summer. View previous installments of this column at Reach James at


2 Responses to “The Bridge: A King Sized Mistake”

  1. I could not agree more with your article. The $100,000,000 being raised was a fantastic thing. I suspect that the great Dr. King would have rather it be spent on 200 plus scholarships every year . The original $ 100,000,000 never being touched. The money , managed properly, could have provided those scholarships every year forever, until the end of time……….

  2. Outstanding! Even Dr. King knew the economic needs of our people must advance as well as our spiritual. He would not have liked a monument of stone. He would have preferred a monument of a stronger Black community BASED on his principles. It takes courage to swim against the tide.

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