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"The album was called Boy and the mood of everybody on it was childish. All the silly noises on 'I Will Follow.'" — Steve Lillywhite

In the Name of Love: King's Legacy Lives On

The Daily Journal
I have been in love with Bono, lead singer of the Irish rock group U2, for 17 years, almost half my life. I went to Atlanta on Jan. 17 in a quest to finally meet him.

But in my single-minded mission, I ended up face to face with issues of civil rights, human rights, justice and equality and with one woman who embodies the spirit of all that and more, Coretta Scott King.

Bono was presented a Salute to Greatness Award by the King Center, which Mrs. King established in 1968 as a living memorial to the legacy of her husband, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The Salute to Greatness Award is given in recognition of "outstanding efforts toward building Dr. King's 'Beloved Community.' "

I wasn't aware that such an award existed, but because Bono was receiving it, I was willing to drive the nine hours to Atlanta to be there for the presentation. Bono is known -- among U2 fans, at least -- for his entertaining and sometimes rambling acceptance speeches. I couldn't pass up a chance to hear one in person.

His speech was a definite highlight for me. I was touched to see the obvious affection between Bono and Mrs. King. She even referred to him as her new son, and he called her "Mama." Knowing that Bono's mother died when he was 14, and that he has always been a great admirer of Dr. King, I can only imagine what a great honor it is for him to have Mrs. King as a mother figure.

He was also his usual, self-deprecating self. He expressed the difficulty of speaking at the podium following members of the King family. "It's like getting the Beatles to open for a bar band," he said. But I'm not sure why he would be nervous. At times he sounded like a Baptist preacher himself.

Bono's sermon was about AIDS in Africa, and that we all have a duty to end the pandemic there. With the world getting smaller and smaller, the edict to love thy neighbor has new meaning.

The most moving part of his speech for me was when he talked about his song "MLK" being written "as sort of a lullaby for an idea that was dying in our country: the idea of non-violence...All inspired by a black reverend from Atlanta who refused to hate because he thought love would do a better job."

If only more people would honor King's legacy by refusing to hate because love would do a better job.

At the end of the awards dinner, Mrs. King asked us all to join in singing the anthem of the civil rights movement, "We Shall Overcome." I held hands with a stranger to my right and a new friend to my left and felt a great sense of gratitude at how far humanity has come but also a sense of duty to do everything in my power to uphold King's legacy of equality and justice for all.

When everything was over, I rushed up to the stage hoping for a chance to speak with Bono. I had been planning conversations in my head for a month, but I didn't get to carry them out. Amazingly, though, I wasn't disappointed. The evening had been so uplifting, how could I possibly be disappointed?

Besides, something equally special was in store. At the after-dinner reception, I got to meet Coretta Scott King. I could tell she was tired; it had been a long night. But she graciously allowed people to take pictures with her.

I was so humbled to be able to shake her hand. I even had a chance to tell her that I had heard her speak at Franklin College in April, and the one thing that stuck in my mind was her use of the term "adversaries" rather than "enemies," because there is a suggestion of hatred in the word "enemy." She thanked me, and we posed for a picture. I'm going to frame that photo and put it on display prominently in my home to remind myself of the dignity, grace and compassion evident in Mrs. King that we should all strive for.

Spending the evening in the King family's presence inspired me to visit the King Center in Atlanta the next day before I drove back to Indiana. I'm glad I did.

King's story has always fascinated me. I was in awe as I wandered around the glass semicircles in the visitor's center that held photos of King and told the history of the civil rights struggle in America.

I found myself in tears as I saw a photo of a young white girl smiling up at a black man hanging from a tree. My eyes welled up again as I watched a video of Dr. King's funeral, when they played a recording of one of his last sermons. In it, he spoke of his own funeral and what he hoped would be said.

"I'd like someone to mention that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to give his life serving others...I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. I want you to be able to say that I did try in my life to clothe the naked. I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. And I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity."

But my heart soared when I read about the black community's determination to end the racist practices of the Montgomery, Ala., bus system and integrate lunch counters in the south. I knew about the Montgomery bus boycott, but I didn't understand what a hardship it was for people to keep up that boycott for a full year. I knew about the sit-ins at lunch counters, but I had no idea the abuse people took. Yet they remained nonviolent.

I left the King Center with a determination to spend every Martin Luther King Jr. Day in service to others. I want to read every book I can find by Dr. King and about him and Mrs. King and their brave struggle to make the world a better place.

I also left thankful that once again, my hero worship of Bono, a pop culture icon, brought me to a greater understanding of Martin Luther King Jr., an American icon whose dream is kept alive by his family, led by a woman who refuses to hate because she thinks love would do a better job.

Michelle Watson is assistant managing editor of production at the Daily Journal.



© 2004 The Daily Journal, Johnson County, Indiana.

Michelle is also a new member of the @U2 News staff.