The times they are a-changin’

“Come senators, congressmen, please heed the call; Don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall; For he that gets hurt, will be he who has stalled; There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’; It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls, for the times they are a-changin’.”

—Bob Dylan, “The Times They are a-Changin’,” 1964.

In the midst of tragedy, it becomes easy for us to forget the positive changes that have come and are still coming in this country. In his classic 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote that we must constantly battle two destructive American forces — the “complacent do-nothing” and the “bitter hater.” Mature thinkers like King realize that it is dangerous to examine change in binary terms. Someone once said to me that nothing has changed in America since the 1800s. In effect, the 21st century is no better than an era in which slavery was legally sanctioned, Native Americans were all but obliterated, only white men could vote and the U.S. Supreme Court opined that blacks had no rights which the white man was “bound to respect.” Clearly, this is not only an overstatement, but also one that rings as untrue and rather ridiculous.

As we furiously move along our never-ending continuum of change, there is much that should give us hope. In 2008, I stood on a Washington D.C. rooftop a few blocks from the White House and looked down as people celebrated in the streets. Some even fell to their knees and prayed after the country that formerly held blacks as slaves elected its first black president. Love or hate Barack Obama, his ascendency proved the times were a-changin’.

While Louisville deals with a Bull Connor like the FOP president, New York’s governor mandated a special prosecutor in all police shootings. He did so in spite of strong police opposition. In Baltimore, the city’s black mayor made the decision that the black police chief should no longer serve. A tough decision, but one made by a black leader of a major city. The times they are a-changin’.

In almost surreal developments after the Charleston massacre, South Carolina governor Nikki Haley sought removal of the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds. A number of other governors, including Virginia’s Terry McAuliffe, made specialty license plates bearing the flag unavailable. Georgia Governor Nathan Deal reversed his initial support of specialty license plates featuring the flag in my home state. Governor Robert Bentley didn’t wait for legislative approval — he immediately ordered the flag’s removal from government buildings in Alabama. Alabama, I said!

Despite the fact that the Confederate flag is still supported by some and sales of it have skyrocketed in some areas, last week South Carolina (the first state of the Confederacy) removed it from the statehouse. Haley — its Indian–American governor — oversaw the ceremony. The captain of the highway patrol color guard who lowered it is black. My, my. We are by no means perfect, but the times they are a-chagin’.

A bit before the flag fell in South Carolina, the U.S. Supreme Court decided gay marriage should be the law of the land. Of course, homophobia (like racism) is still rampant, but now LGBTQ brothers and sisters have the right to sink themselves into the misery of marriage just like the rest of us. Sure, there is resistance. Backwards people from Kentucky county clerks to Louisiana’s governor and legislators are refusing to obey and issue marriage licenses. State and federal officials should remove them, lock them up and move on. One Texas minister even says he’ll set himself on fire because of the ruling. Burn, baby, burn! But, despite the homophobes across lines of race, the times they are a-changin’!

Don’t get me wrong — I’m definitely not saying we don’t have work to do. To be sure, we have a long way to go. But have hope — we’ve come a long way, too. Successes shouldn’t be lost in the midst of our pain. That’s the only way we can maintain hope and fight on. As King reminded us, when we become complacent do-nothings we are lost. As the families of the murdered South Carolina parishioners and forgiving black Americans throughout history have reminded us — if we become bitter haters, we are lost. I am confident we are not lost. We will be victorious for the times they are still a-changin’. •

Ricky L. Jones is the author of Black Haze. Visit him at www.rickyljones.com. Follow him @DrRickyLJones