Brothers and Sisters, I hate to wake you up from Martin’s dream, but it is time to live free or die trying. Like every man of color living in America since 1619, I have been taught rules of survival by my elders and I have passed on those lessons of survival to my progeny. No doubt if something does not change and change in a hurry my progeny will pass on those lessons to his offspring.
Wake up brother, wake up sister, it is time to live free or die trying. Martin told us in Albany that “a man can’t ride your back when you stand up.” Although he told us that a long, long time ago, we did not stand up. Live free or die trying was Martin’s manifesto to his people as enunciated in his last speech on April 3, 1968 at the Mason Temple Church of God in Christ in Memphis.
Somehow brother and sister, we were sidetracked by the media spin of “I’ve been to the mountain.” Yet that was not the essence of Martin’s utterances that night. What Martin wanted you and I to know is that in spite of the death threats, he was going to live free or die trying. Martin left the pulpit that night with his heart heavy, but his head held high. He walked out into the sultry Memphis night living free and ready to die if any lesser man was offended that he walked in the spirit of freedom.
The following day, Martin walked out of room 307 onto the balcony of the Lorraine Motel and into eternity. He walked out a free man. He walked out willing to die for his freedom.
“If a man.” Martin once said, “hasn’t found anything to die for, he is not fit to live.” Strong words, but words by which our leader lived and died.
There comes a time in the course of human history when a people who wish to be free of tyranny must stand up and declare not only that enough is enough is enough, but boldly live free or die trying.
Perhaps it has come time to straighten our backs, brothers, when we encounter the police. Look them in the eyes with the courage of our sister, Sandra Bland and challenge them to do their job lawfully as prescribed by law or leave us the heck alone.
I’ve had many unpleasant encounters with the police. Each time, when I have yes sired and no sired them to death, I was given a citation or an ugly warning that next time they would haul me off to jail.
However, there were three occasions where I lived free without the fear of death in my eyes. Those situations turned out differently. The first one occurred in 1977, when a Bibb County, Georgia Court Bailiff appeared in my driveway without legal process and ordered me into his van. I refused to obey an unlawful order. He reached for his gun. I ordered him not to shoot me. He removed his hands from his gun and did not shoot me. I did not go to jail.
In 2001, the Sheriff of Hancock County, Georgia and two of his deputies jumped me from behind as I was leaving court with my client. They threw me up against a wall. I was able to break free of their grasp without injury or bruise and ordered them never to touch me again. They never have and I did not go to jail.
On the third encounter in 2015, a Decatur, Georgia police officer yelled at me through the window of my car after I had nearly collided with another vehicle.
In spite of the fact no laws had been broken and no accident had occurred, the officer refused to accept my explanation that I made a mistake and nearly merged into the lane on my left.
“You made a mistake,” the burly blond haired officer yelled. “Yes, I made a mistake,” I shouted back in a robust tone, then barked out my demand, “What do you want me to do.” He was forced to give me the only lawful command he could, which was “you are free to go, have a good day.”
In no wise am I advocating a resort to violence against the police, but it has been my experience that when a man knows you are not up for any foolishness, he tends to leave you alone. Live free or die trying!
Harold Michael Harvey is an American novelist and essayist, the author of Paper puzzle and Justice in the Round. He can be contacted at haroldmichaelharvey.com.