From SCLC’s 1967 Convention to 2011’s King Dedication …
The storm-delayed ceremonies dedicating a memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the nation’s capital brought both surviving family members and many of the late Dr. King’s contemporaries. Men of the movement such as Rev. Joseph Lowery, Ambassador Andrew Young, Congressman John Lewis, Julian Bond and Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, stood on the national mall with President Barack Obama, Vice-President Joe Biden and several White House cabinet secretaries.
For some, the King Memorial dedication was a much-deserved tribute to a bygone era. Yet it in reality, it was that and more. The principles of freedom, justice and equality that King espoused are eternal — not generational. His life provides a glimpse into both what must be overcome and the fortitude to achieve it. For all that has been accomplished since King’s 1968 assassination, much more work has yet to be pursued.
On August 16, 1967, King delivered one of many prophetic speeches, though this one is seldom cited. The occasion was the 11th annual Southern Christian Leadership Convention. His keynote address asked the gathering, “Where do we go from here?” In part of that speech, King responded to his question with more questions.
“One day we must ask the question,” said King, “Why are there 40 million poor people in America?
Instead of 40 million people in poverty, the figure has now grown to 46 million. For African Americans, one in four people today live in poverty. Unemployment rates for African Americans are double those of the general population. According to the Economic Policy Institute’s analysis of the most recent census data, since 2007, median incomes of Black families dropped 10 percent from $35,665 to $32,068.
Add to these disturbing inequalities, predatory lending with triple-digit interest for payday and car title loans, or dealer-mark-ups on auto financing, and disproportionate foreclosed homes, there is a measurable tax for being Black or Latino in America.
But like our martyred Martin, we must collectively find the will and way to transform unfair burdens into promising opportunities.
“Where do we go from here?” King repeated. “First we must massively assert our dignity and worth. We must stand up amid a system that still oppresses us and develop an unassailable and majestic sense of values.”
The permanent memorial to King’s incredible life and legacy can also challenge us to make real the work he envisioned but did not live to see:
“I conclude by saying today that we have a task, and let us go out with a divine dissatisfaction.
“Let us be dissatisfied until America will no longer have a high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds.
“Let us be dissatisfied until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort from the inner city of poverty and despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the forces of justice.
“Let us be dissatisfied until those who live on the outskirts of hope are brought into the metropolis of daily security.
“Let us be dissatisfied until slums are cast into the junk heaps of history, and every family will live in a decent, sanitary home.”
In 2011, the fight for equality goes on. — (NNPA)