Niagara Gazette

January 15, 2014

BRADBERRY: Dr. King's birthday, artistry of change

By Bill Bradberry
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — We are stardust, we are golden, we’re caught in the devil’s bargain,

And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.

 Joni Mitchell, Woodstock 1969

Music, poetry, theater ... can reflect the mood of a nation, affect and inspire a nation changing movement. No doubt, the music and literary art of the ‘60s did both.

Listening to her voice takes me back there to those days, reminds me what it was like back then, how far we’ve come, how far we’ve yet to go. Artists like our own R. Nathaniel Dett, Ma Rainey Joni Mitchell, Zora Neale Hurston, August Wilson and the late Amiri Baraka who died last week, each in their own way, understood and articulated in poetic fashion, the connections between culture and social change; one inspires the other.

Born a Baby Boomer, I was raised on music, nourished and molded by it. Whether it was the haunting Gregorian Chants we sang at Mass in the echo chamber-like walls of Our Lady of the Rosary church, or the blues we heard George Hound Dog Lorenz spinning on the radio, the music did more than make us dance; it made us think.

We listened, we thought about it, we marched; some off to war others in the streets inspired by words written and performed by artists like Buffalo Springfields “Something’s Happening Here”, Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” and Dylan’s “Blowing In the Wind” or the Beatles, “Give Peace a Chance.”

Like Stevie Wonder’s 1981 “Happy Birthday”,which after years of deliberation, debate and delay, many credit with leading to President Ronald Reagan’s 1983 signing into law, the creation of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a federal holiday, artists continue to reflect and inspire.

Acclaimed sculptor, Susan Geissler, who’s Freedom Crossing Monument, poised on the banks of the mighty Niagara River in Lewiston stands as testament to this Region’s role in the Underground Railroad, her recently added “Tuscarora Heroes” which pays tribute to the roles of the Tuscarora Nation here during the War of 1812 will continue to arouse and excite for decades to come, hopefully triggering additional inspirational art work along the Niagara Frontier.

Dr. King would be turning 85 years old today had he not been cut down by assassins just three months after his thirty-ninth birthday. His violent murder during the peak of the tumult that ravaged the nation during the riotous 1960s should continue to be overshadowed by his life and the peaceful, nonviolent framework that he advocated as the right way to achieve the sweeping social change that he helped to shepherd into reality.

He left behind a legacy which, nearly fifty years after his murder, continues to challenge America’s commitment to the essential core of its most fundamental principles.

Awarded the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolence, in 1965, he and the Southern Christian Leadership Council and others helped to organize the Selma to Montgomery marches.

The following year, he marched into Chicago expanding the Civil Rights Movement to include the war on poverty while demanding an end to the war in Vietnam.

Events over the past several years seem to echo the struggles that were fought and won fifty years ago, introducing an ominous sense of déjà vu.

Once again, the Nation finds itself at a crossroad, facing hard choices; to withdraw from un-winnable war, this time in Afghanistan and Iraq, or to help those long-term unemployed by extending jobless benefits; should we raise the minimum wage, or continue to ignore the fact that families simply cannot make ends meet on $7.25 per hour and reductions in SNAP “food stamps”?

Should we move forward to revamp our primary and secondary public education systems, or continue to ignore the real problems…drop-out rates, too high, graduation rates, too low; can we really expect Congress to be able to extricate itself from itself long enough to do anything other than fight with each other?

Maybe Joni Mitchell should sing her “Circle” song at the President’s State of the Union Address, or perhaps Maya Angelou would be willing to recite from her iconic “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, or how about a few words from James Baldwin’s 1963 “The Fire Next Time” or his 1976 “The Devil Finds Work.”

Where oh where forth art the artists?

A few of them will gather this evening at 7 p.m., at the Lewiston Public Library. These particular artists are writers in the form of genealogist and historians asking the simple question: Qui êtes vous? or Who are you?

Michelle Kratts invites you to join historian Bill Siener and genealogist Peter Ames for the “American premier of the popular French-Canadian genealogy television program, Qui êtes vous?”

Like its American counterpart, “Who Do You Think You Are?” chronicles various family history mysteries relating to national celebrities.

Mrs. Kratts says, “Peter Ames and William Siener, are both deeply involved in researching the history of the area. Ames, a family history researcher, is well-known throughout the Niagara area for his work at historic Oakwood Cemetery, for organizing the preservation of local church records and for assisting people in their personal quest for genealogical answers.”

The better we know ourselves, the more likely we will know each other. Together, we might just possibly find our way back to the garden.

Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King!

Contact Bill Bradberry at