Hearing once again on Wednesday the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 50 years after he spoke them in Washington, D.C., one is stirred, perhaps even more than one was stirred 50 years ago, by King’s eloquence and by the power of his words. Jim Glynn, writing elsewhere on this page, repeats many of those words, and it is hard not to be affected by them.
A few days after King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, a group of businessmen met in Seattle to talk about their grief over King’s death, and to try to make sense of it by “doing something about it.”
Nearly all of these businessmen were white, and some of them were a little nervous because among those invited to speak to them were black activists who did a lot of shouting and fist-shaking at those they called the “whities.”
Then, a tall, young African-American-Hispanic Superior Court judge named Charles Z. Smith arose to speak.
“You ask what you can do,” he said, “as if the answer involves something complicated. Well, it doesn’t. It is simple. Here it is. Don’t discriminate.”
He said that if King’s message of Aug. 28, 1963, could be distilled down to basics, it would be that simple phrase: “Don’t discriminate.”
He went on to say that people do, of course, discriminate, for all kinds of reasons, some of them good. But racial discrimination is evil discrimination, he said, largely because it is based on something the person being discriminated against can’t help. “Nobody,” he said, “can choose his parents.”
Smith went on to be appointed, in 1988, a member of the Washington State Supreme Court, from which he retired in 2002 after being re-elected to two, six-year terms without opposition.
His words, reasonable, intelligent and totally American, along with those of King, ring true today.