The saying goes that if you live long enough you’ll see it all. Well, I guess I’ve lived long enough to see many surprising things. I don’t proclaim to have “seen it all”, but I’ve been witness to some events that one would have never predicted.
Fifty years ago today, Dr. Martin Luther King received the Nobel Peace Prize. For those of us that were not aware during the sixties and seventies, it was a time of great turmoil. Thousands were marching in the streets demanding equality and an end to the war in Viet Nam. Riots were taking place in the cities and the police were enforcing “law and order” very vigorously.
In the midst of this turmoil, Dr. Martin Luther King was rallying the troops and pushing forward with the civil rights movement with a philosophy of non-violence. How one could rally people to march unarmed into police lines of truncheons and dogs is beyond me, but Dr. King did it, and peacefully. His efforts to demand equality without creating a blood bath did not go unnoticed in the world community. On October 14, 1964 Dr. Martin Luther King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.
Fast forward fifty years and another voice of the period has now received a Nobel Prize, this one for Literature. Bob Dylan, born Robert Zimmerman, was awarded the prize for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”.
It is a hard comparison to measure the impact of the words of Dr. King and the songs of Bob Dylan. There is no doubt to the devotees of both prophets that there was something far deeper in the message than just the words. Within the speeches and the words of the songs is the message of the disenfranchised longing to be free and equal. Both messengers delivered their words with the point of view of one who has experienced the injustices they are talking about.
Dylan’s grandparents emigrated from Odessa, (now Ukraine), to the United States following the anti-Semitic pogroms of 1905. No doubt their plight gave Dylan a sense of how society could become skewed to eradicate a group just because of their beliefs. Dylan produced an anthem for a generation that was set to explode with the frustration of the Viet Nam war and race inequality.
In “The Times They Are A- Changin”, Dylan blasted a warning to the establishment that there was a new day coming:
Dylan’s poetic imagery gave the youth of the day a clarion’s call to action and an anthem for the movement. In fact, the underground group the Weathermen took their name from a line in Dylan’s song Subterranean Homesick Blues. “You don’t need a weather man to know which way the wind blows.”
So now, almost fifty years apart to the day, two heroes of my youth have been honored by the Nobel committee. I haven’t seen it all yet, but I’m looking forward to whatever is next.