Serling on the “Special Irony” Surrounding Martin Luther King’s Death

Four days after the April 4, 1968 assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., The Los Angeles Times published a letter from Rod Serling:

There is a bitter sadness and special irony that attends the passing of Martin Luther King. Quickly and with ease, we offer up a chorus of posthumous praise—the ritual dirge so time-honored and comfortable and undemanding of anything but rhetoric. In death, we offer the acknowledgement of the man and his dream that we denied him in life. In his grave, we praise him for his decency—but when he walked amongst us, we responded with no decency of our own.

When he suggested that all men should have a place in the sun—we put a special sanctity on the right of ownership and the privilege of prejudice by maintaining that to deny homes to Negroes was a democratic right. Now we acknowledge his compassion—but we exercised no compassion of our own.

When he asked us to understand that men take to the streets out of anguish and hopelessness and a vision of that dream dying, we bought guns and speculated about roving agitators and subversive conspiracies and demanded law and order. We felt anger at the effects, but did little to acknowledge the causes. We extol all the virtues of the man—but we chose not to call them virtues before his death.

And now, belatedly, we talk of this man’s worth—but the judgment comes late in the day as part of a eulogy when it should have been made a matter of record while he existed as a living force. If we are to lend credence to our mourning, there are acknowledgements that must be made now, albeit belatedly.

We must act on the altogether proper assumption that Martin Luther King asked for nothing but that which was his due. He demanded no special concessions, no favored leg up the ladder for his people, despite our impatience with his lifelong prodding of our collective conscience. He asked only for equality, and it is that which we denied him. We must look beyond riots in the streets to the essential righteousness of what he asked of us. To do less would make his dying as senseless as our own living would be inconsequential.

— Rod Serling

Fifty years later, his words ring just as true.

***

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About Paul

Fanning about the work of Rod Serling all over social media. If you enjoy pics, quotes, facts and blog posts about The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery and Serling's other projects, you've come to the right place.

Posted on 04/04/2018, in Rod Serling and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. That was beautiful. Those words are very true today.

  2. What a great post. Thank you for sharing this.

  3. We’re still in the cave on this… 😔

    RIP King and Serling. Their lights still shine.

  4. I think the eternal nature of Serling’s words and stories is that he had a gift for sorting through the obvious and getting to the essential truth. Unfortunately, in almost every case, that truth is as unchanging as it is uncomfortable. I think he knew that, but I think he hoped he was wrong. I think he might be saddened by the timeless quality of his work – but I’m not sure he would be surprised.

    • Good observations, Dan. He really had a gift for insight, which was fortunate for us, but probably somewhat UNfortunate for him — precisely because, yes, the reason his work is so timeless is because mankind is so eternally flawed. But we can’t despair — or at least we shouldn’t — because he spoke these truths to encourage us to be better. And we can. At the very least, we should never stop trying.

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