WASHINGTON — Standing beneath the looming presence of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., President Barack Obama carved out his own version of Black leadership with a message of racial unity.
A sense of inescapable Blackness surrounded Sunday’s dedication ceremony for the King memorial. The 30-foot-tall granite likeness is the first on the National Mall to honor an African American, joining memorials for two white presidents who owned slaves and a third who ended such bondage.
Obama responded by stirring the loyalty of his restive Black base while reaching to include all Americans, linking himself to King’s “constant insistence on the oneness of man” and the slain leader’s efforts to help not just Black people, but all those in need.
He used the colorblind suggestion that Americans look at the hard times King conquered, and understand the challenge of navigating the troubles of today.
“At this moment, when our politics appear so sharply polarized, and faith in our institutions so greatly diminished, we need more than ever to take heed of Dr. King’s teachings,” Obama said. “He calls on us to stand in the other person’s shoes, to see through their eyes, to understand their pain.”
At times, it seemed as if the shoes to which Obama alluded were his.
He drew subtle parallels between himself and the man in stone behind him, the “Black preacher with no official rank or title” who helped shape “an America that is far more fair and more free and more just” than it was in 1963, when King delivered his iconic “I Have A Dream” speech on that same Mall.
“Even after rising to prominence, even after winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. King was vilified by many ... He was even attacked by his own people,” Obama said.
The Black Nobel Peace Prize winner, who never held elected office, as seen by the Black Nobel Peace Prize winner elected to the highest office in the land.
“We are right to savor that slow but certain progress,” Obama said. “... And yet it is also important on this day to remind ourselves that such progress did not come easily; that Dr. King’s faith was hard won; that it sprung out of a harsh reality and some bitter disappointments.”
Unlike his other infrequent remarks on race, which were mostly responding to problems, Obama set his own terms on Sunday.
He did not explore America’s racial dynamics or cite lingering racial barriers, as he did during the 2008 campaign to counteract remarks by his pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Nor did he chide his Black critics, as he did in a speech before the Congressional Black Caucus last month.
Fifty-nine words into Sunday’s remarks, Obama uttered the word “Black” — something his African-American critics have hungered for him to do more often. He called out the names of deceased movement luminaries such as Rosa Parks, Dorothy Height and the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. He let his body language speak, too, rocking pensively to Aretha Franklin’s stirring performance of “Precious Lord Take My Hand,” and linking arms with his wife and the vice president to sing “We Shall Overcome.”
In the process, he satisfied at least one of his strongest Black critics.
“He was sho’ nuff Black,” said Michael Eric Dyson, a Georgetown professor who in the past has said that Obama “runs from race like a Black man runs from a cop.”
“He dipped down into the resourceful pool of Black oratory, soared high, and expressed the courage of Blackness against the bastion of white supremacy and injustice and transcended color to join us all together,” Dyson said after the speech.
Rep. John Lewis, the Georgia Democrat who worked shoulder-to-shoulder with King, said Obama did with King’s memory “exactly what I hoped he would do.”
King “truly believed in the dignity of all human beings. It didn’t matter if you were Black, white, Latino, Native American,” Lewis said.
Along with many other speakers at Sunday’s ceremony, Lewis noted that at the time of King’s assassination, he was working to build a multiracial coalition that would bring a “poor people’s campaign” to the National Mall.
“There was a parallel (in Obama’s speech) with what he’s going through now, too,” Lewis said. “When President Obama was running for office there was a low moment in his campaign, and he said, ‘I have to go back to my authentic self.’ I think what we saw here was authentic Obama. It was very powerful.”
Powerful without dwelling directly on Black or white, said Colin Powell, the Republican and first Black secretary of state under President George W. Bush.
“This wasn’t a speech about race,” Powell said. “It was a speech about the future of America. He touched all the bases: where we have been, where we are going, where we are now, and where we have to be.”
Not everyone was impressed. David Kairys, a Temple University law professor and civil rights attorney who attended King’s 1963 March on Washington, wished Obama had provided a clear reckoning of remaining racial problems.
“This specific occasion is about the struggle against racial oppression,” Kairys said, then mentioned that Black unemployment is twice the white rate and Blacks still suffer disproportionately from many social ills.
“We eliminated the worst forms of explicit racism and it became taboo to be racist, but the results of segregation and Jim Crow were basically left in place and just continued over the last 40 or 50 years,” he said. “That’s at least worth some kind of direct comment.”
Yet he understood, in some way, why Obama made that choice: “To be fair, he’s running for re-election. Also, he never told us he was going to be a champion against racial oppression. This (speech) is probably who he really is.”
Most others were more complimentary. Even the conservative talk show host Mike Gallagher, who is determined to defeat the president in 2012, said that the way Obama honored King’s legacy was “brilliant.”
“It was a beautiful, powerful message about what can be achieved in this country,” Gallagher said. “I really appreciate the fact that he acknowledged as a Black man how much progress we’ve made. ... And it kills me to say this, because I think Obama is wrecking the country.”
Paul and Carol Cooper, a white retired couple from Kingston, N.Y., heard King’s “Dream” speech in person in 1963. Before Sunday’s speech, they had hoped Obama would discuss the work still undone to fulfill King’s dream.
On Sunday, Paul Cooper called Obama’s remarks a “classic.”
“Obama showed us repeatedly,” he said, “that King belongs not merely to Black people, but to the whole country.” — (AP)
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)
The former site of the Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza Homes is now nearly an acre of green with a special nod to the slain civil rights leader – a public art installation in his honor.
“It’s a fitting tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King,” said Cindy Dunn, deputy secretary for conservation and resources with the state’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources who was on hand Monday for the ribbon cutting, officially opening the park. “He was a person who drew his inspiration from nature.”
The park replaces a 576-unit public housing complex that dated from 1960 and was once considered one of Philadelphia’s worst crime areas. King gave a speech at the community center in the old tower complex in 1965 and the complex was re-named in his honor in 1970. The tower was demolished in 1999 and plans were laid for the park – called Hawthorne Park after the surrounding neighborhood. Funding was announced in 2008 and ground was broken last year.
Now, the three-quarters of an acre site boasts 50 trees, 4,000 square feet of plant beds and a 19,000 square foot lawn.
At the center of it all is a stainless steel raised podium, created by sculptor Warren Holzman and called “Object of Expression,” to commemorate a speech King gave near the site in 1965.
According to Michael Johns, acting executive director of housing operations for the Philadelphia Housing Authority, the lectern will serve as a “pulpit for the expression of progressive ideas.”
The park is surrounded by 245 housing units built in the housing authority’s new low-density style – red brick, single-family townhouses or apartments. Nineteen of them overlook the park.
Mayor Michael Nutter praised area residents and planners for bringing the park to the neighborhood.
“Every neighborhood should have green, open spaces,” he said, adding, “We are going to keep it clean,” explaining that by “we” he meant area residents in partnership with the city.
“Keep it clean. Keep it safe. Keep it beautiful,” said Nutter.
In addition to creating a markedly different look for the neighborhood, the park brings some cutting edge environmental features to the area.
In the southeast corner of the park, a brick plateau rises to overlook the lawn. It is constructed of 6,000 water permeable bricks that reduce storm-water runoff. Another feature of the park is a high efficiency irrigation system and drought tolerant plantings.
If there’s a way to celebrate Martin Luther King Day and pay tribute to those who make local neighborhoods the “beloved community,” Mid-Atlantic Health Care and the Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church has found it.
Together they kicked off Pennsylvania’s King week, which according to a resolution sponsored by state Sen. Shirley Kitchen, spans from Monday, Jan. 15 to Sunday, Jan. 22. The kick-off event took place at Enon’s Mount Airy campus, 2800 W. Cheltenham Ave. last Wednesday.
Philadelphia NAACP member Helen Green of Germantown felt it was important that the King celebrations include events that showcase community activism. She said her daughter, Cynthia Green of Wyncote, joined the Cheltenham NAACP recently. After being reminded of King’s legacy, she opted to join the North Philadelphia branch, which is near her own mother’s home.
“We really have to continue to keep King’s dream alive,” Green said. “I think we need to have programs like this so that our young people don’t take things for granted. We who are the elders need to come out and encourage them to participate in things like this.”
Cathy Hicks of the city’s Sheriff’s office concurred.
She said though the King Day of Service is helpful, she feels there should be more programs that directly teach about King’s legacy.
“I really want the King Day celebrations to be more like this — where we observe what he has done and then we can go and do service for the rest of the year,” she said.
Among the honorees were C. B. Kimmins, founder of Mantua Against Drugs. “It’s good to know that sometimes someone recognizes what you are doing,” Kimmens said.
For Malik Aziz, accepting the honor from his wheelchair was a proud moment. As one of the founders of Men United for a Better Philadelphia, and now executive director of Exhoodus Network, Aziz said that “10 murders every 10 days” in the city is unacceptable.
“I grew up hearing Dr. King, Malcolm X and the others talking about positive change,” Aziz said. “I tell the young men my story of what I did at 17 years of age. I want to save them from what I did. That’s why I am still working to save our children.”
The other honorees were Lillian Daniels, the Rev. Derrick Johnson and Raymond Gant. Among the guest speakers and award presenters were 13th District Congresswoman Allyson Y. Schwartz, Mayor Michael Nutter, District Attorney Seth Williams and NAACP president Jerry Mondesire. Mid-Atlantic executives Dr. Jana Mallis, Jeff Grillo, Celeste Zappala, Diane Morgan and Dan McCathrey gave remarks. Additionally, Philadelphia’s own Bill Cosby phoned in his comments during the program.
Kitchen read a Commonwealth resolution that she sponsored declaring that from Monday, Jan. 15 until Sunday, Jan. 22, was King Week in Pennsylvania.
“This is a time when Pennsylvania can respect Dr. King’s legacy, and it’s a reminder that Dr. King understood that everyone needed to respect each other,” Kitchen said.
As we celebrate Black History Month, a number of well-known civil rights figures typically come to mind – Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Thurgood Marshall and many others. Although they deserve their acclaim, February 2012 is the perfect time to reflect on Bayard Rustin, Chester County’s own civil rights hero, during the centennial of his birth.
Known as the “Architect of the March on Washington,” Bayard Rustin was a major force in the Civil Rights Movement. Not only was he was born and raised in West Chester, but his experiences here deeply influenced his philosophies and career.
Born 100 years ago to Florence Rustin and Archie Hopkins, he had little or no relationship with either. Instead, Bayard was raised by his grandparents, Julia and Janifer Rustin, as their own son.
Julia and Janifer Rustin were very active in the community. They helped found the Chester County branch of the NAACP and the West Chester Community Center (now the Charles A. Melton Arts and Education Center). They were actively involved in the Bethel A.M.E. Church, the Gay Street School and other organizations. Rustin’s grandparents’ local activism, coupled with their strong Quaker beliefs, had a strong influence on his desire to work for social justice throughout his life.
The West Chester of Rustin’s childhood was socially complex. Despite Chester County’s history of the Underground Railroad and abolitionism, it was deeply divided over issues of race. West Chester’s elementary and junior high schools were segregated, white restaurants would not serve Black patrons, and theaters were segregated. Local branches of the Ku Klux Klan were active in the county.
Rustin, however, did not accept the status quo. As a high school student he protested against segregation at the Warner Theater on High Street. He and his Black and white track teammates fought against unequal housing while traveling to competitions. He attracted like-minded students who followed him in protest against discrimination and segregation at local restaurants, soda fountains, department stores and the YMCA.
Rustin was a star student at West Chester High School (now Henderson), where he played football and track, participated in French, classics and science clubs, and excelled in speaking and essay contests. Rustin delivered a commencement address for his class of 1932 and was an amazing singer. Being comfortable in the spotlight was a natural role for Rustin, and his commanding presence and oratorical skills continued throughout his lifetime.
Rustin’s songbird-like tenor voice won him a scholarship to Wilberforce University in Ohio, the nation’s oldest historically black private university. He later attended Cheyney University where he formally declared himself a Quaker and became involved in the American Friends Service Committee.
In 1937, at age 25, he moved to New York City, and by 1941 was working for the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR). Rustin felt at home in the interfaith organization, which was led by the well-known pacifist and social justice activist A.J. Muste. As youth secretary of FOR, Rustin traveled the country promoting nonviolent activism in support of social justice. During this period he also joined the Young Communist League, but left the group when it shifted its focus from social inequality.
Rustin wasn’t just teaching principles, he acted on his beliefs. In 1942, he was beaten by police officers in Nashville, Tenn. after refusing to sit in the back of a bus. During the WW II draft, he refused to serve and went to prison to make a statement in support of pacifism.
In 1947, Rustin helped coordinate the Journey of Reconciliation, the nation’s first Freedom Ride. In this well-organized protest, 16 Black and white individuals rode busses through the South refusing to sit in segregated seating. Rustin and others were arrested in North Carolina and sentenced to a chain gang. He wrote about his experiences for the New York Post, which helped expose the injustices of chain gangs.
Through the 1950s, Rustin’s work bolstered the rising Civil Rights Movement. He helped organize the 1955 Montgomery bus boycotts to end segregated seating. In 1957, he established the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In fact, many credit him with teaching King the Gandhian nonviolence methods that became King’s trademark.
What Rustin is most remembered for, however, is his role in organizing the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Rustin’s responsibility was to coordinate and oversee logistics for this massive event — from the speeches, security and slogans to tracking busses and procuring 80,000 ham and cheese sandwiches for the crowds. Around 250,000 people packed the Washington, D.C., mall for the March, which was punctuated by King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The March was considered an enormous success and a week later, Rustin’s image graced the cover of Life magazine.
Through the 1960s, Rustin remained active through the A. Philip Randolph Institute, which focused on interconnected labor and civil rights issues. He traveled the world, visiting various countries to expose injustices and support peaceful protest. But even after all of his international success, Rustin remembered his roots. In 1965, he spoke at the West Chester Community Center to 750 citizens concerned about unequal treatment for Black students in the school system. He returned in 1966 to help organize fair housing protests in West Chester.
Controversy followed Rustin throughout his career. As a gay man, he was often stigmatized within the Civil Rights Movement and discouraged from taking a more public role. King’s advisers, for instance, warned him that he should distance himself from Rustin. Others criticized him for his brief membership as part of the Young Communist Party and unwillingness to serve in the military. Many in the area recall how these factors fueled the 2003 controversy over naming West Chester Area School District’s third high school after Rustin.
Today, the Chester County Historical Society (CCHS) commemorates the centennial of Rustin’s birth and his legacy through the exhibition Bayard Rustin’s Local Roots. Former CCHS Collections Manager Andrea Cakars curated the exhibition in collaboration with many community members and representatives from the Melton Center. Visitors will learn about Rustin’s story, view numerous photographs and artifacts, and even hear recordings of him singing spirituals. The lessons are powerful — that West Chester’s own Rustin, virtually unknown to many today, played a major part in the Civil Rights movement. Additionally, visitors learn that segregation in West Chester was a stark reality in the not-so-distant past, and many still living helped topple it. Upcoming programs include:
• March 3 – Opening event including a free luncheon with the West Chester Gospel Choir and Reverend Anderson Porter (RSVP required).
• May 5 – Book signing with Sarah Wesley and Catherine Quillman — “Walking the East End: A Historic African-American Community in West Chester, Pennsylvania.”
• May 12 – Walking tour featuring Bayard Rustin sites and historically Black-owned businesses and landmarks with Wesley and Quillman, starting at the Melton Center.
• May 19 – “Brother Outsider” film showing and discussion panel (RSVP required)
• June 9 – Walking tour of the East End by Penny Washington, starting at the Melton Center.
For information about the exhibit, visit www.chestercohistorical.org or call (610) 692-4800.
Rob Lukens is the president of the Chester County Historical Society.
When the National Assessment of Educational Progress — commonly referred to as “The Nation’s Report Card” — was administered to 12,000 high school seniors last year, it became clear that when it comes to teaching the civil rights movement in America’s classrooms, there is a terrible disconnect.
Asked to describe the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas — which made it illegal to segregate schools — just two percent of the students were able to sufficiently answer the question.
A new study by the Southern Poverty Law Center, “Teaching the Movement,” found this type of ignorance rampant in schools across America. The study gives 35 states, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey, failing grades when it comes to teaching students about the Civil Rights Movement. The civil rights movement period is generally recognized to be from 1954 up to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.
“An educated populace must be taught basics about American history,” said civil rights activist and former center president Julian Bond, in his preface to the report. ”One of these basics is the civil rights movement, a nonviolent revolution as important as the first American Revolution. It is a history that continues to shape the America we all live in today.”
“Schools across the entire state teach civil rights in detail,” said Tim Heller, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of Education. “It has always been an area of emphasis in curriculums across Pennsylvania.”
In the SPLC’s evaluation, states were given a grade of F if they required less than 20 percent of the content recommended by the SPLC based on textbooks, existing curriculum and expert opinion. As an example, just 12 states require their schools to teach about Rosa Parks, largely viewed as the “Mother of the movement” for her 1955 refusal to sit in the back of a Montgomery, Ala., bus.
Pennsylvania scored 0; New Jersey notched 15 percent.
To receive and A, a state had to include at least 60 percent of the SPLC recommended content. Alabama, with 70 percent, received the highest grade. Also receiving an A were New York and Illinois, with scores of 65 percent and 64 percent, respectively.
In Philadelphia, a course in African American history, including the civil rights movement, is a graduation requirement.
This left some Pennsylvanians puzzled.
“It has been a part of our curriculum for a long time,” said School District of Philadelphia spokesperson Fernando Gallard. Gallard said that the school district’s policy of making the study of the civil rights movement mandatory has been in place for years, adding that he believed that Philadelphia was, for a long time, “the only large district” in the country where it was mandatory for graduation.
In New Jersey, a 2002 state law made it mandatory for African American history to be a part of the social studies curriculum. From the law sprang the Amistad Commission, which provides and promotes an African-American history curriculum, related teaching resources, professional developmental opportunities and grants.
“For too many students, their civil rights education boils down to two people and four words: Rosa Parks, Dr. King and ‘I have a dream,’” said Maureen Costello, SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance director. “When 43 states adopted Common Core Standards in English and math, they affirmed that rigorous standards were necessary for achievement. By having weak or non-existent standards for history, particularly for the civil rights movement, they are saying loud and clear that it isn’t something students need to learn.”
The SPLC said it issued the report to encourage a national conversation about the importance of teaching the civil rights movement. The report calls for states to include civil rights education in K-12 history and social studies curricula. It urges colleges and other organizations that train teachers to ensure that they are well prepared to teach it.
The report found that students in regions where the movement took place knew the most about the movement. It also determined that physical distance from the region where the movement took place – the south – also influenced the way it was taught.
“Region and proximity to the movement mean a lot,” Costello said.
President Barack Obama has a problem. It is not his vision for change or the soaring unemployment rate of 9.1 percent. It is neither the dual wars in Iraq and Afghanistan nor the growing apathy within his Democratic party. Unfortunately, he inherited some of these challenges from the previous administration. His problem? How does he marry audacious leadership and hope while facing fierce opposition and disrespect?
During the summer, the president sought the middle ground, trying to appeal to independent voters. At first glance, this strategy appeared to be an excellent one for a 2012 re-election: to stay above the fray and reaffirm to independents that he is not an “angry” or “reactionary” Black man, and that he is above the disrespect and childish political antics of John Boehner, Eric Cantor and rest of the Republican Party.
Indeed, the primary challenge facing Obama is contending with the forces who want to gain control of the Oval Office and who are willing to stop at nothing to apprehend it — even if it means bringing the U.S. financial market unnecessarily to her knees.
In order to save America, and even his presidency, the president must emerge as the master strategist to combat forces that would muddy the waters between allies and foes, and stir deleterious and counterproductive debate amongst his voting base that is designed to distract, discourage, dissuade, and ultimately defeat him.
To be victorious, Obama must redouble his efforts to maintain focus and to become what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called “…not a searcher for consensus, but a molder of consensus.”
Please understand: I enthusiastically support President Barack Obama. In 2008, I organized Clergy for Change, the first interfaith and interracial breakfast in Philadelphia to support and elect then Senator Obama. My call for leadership should not be aligned with the likes of Tavis Smiley or Cornel West.
However, when 14 million Americans are unemployed, the housing market is in a tailspin, the economy is on the brink of a double-dip recession and your most loyal base is feeling the most financial pain, we need our president to dare to be our most audacious leader.
On Thursday night, delivering his jobs speech in the House chamber — a venue used only three times within the past 20 years except for the State of Union addresses — President Obama took a crucial step in bold and daring leadership.
Principally, the president exhorted Congress to pass a jobs bill that would:
— Cut the payroll tax and put more money in the pockets of working and middle class Americans, saving families an average of $1,500 a year;
— Provide an additional tax cut to any business that hires or increases wages;
— Extend jobless benefits to the unemployed, with special emphasis on those out of work at least six months and those in low-income neighborhoods.
— Spend $140 billion to save and create jobs to repair deteriorating schools and rebuild roads, railways, and airports.
President Obama is a gifted politician. He is smart, attentively listens and knows how to take our nation’s challenges and develop them into a clear, bipartisan vision. While he is a great visionary, he must do more than cast vision. He must be guided by his convictions rather than allow his enemies to cast him as one who occasionally acquiesces or abdicates his leadership.
The security of America and yes, even the presidency, dangles at the end of a very short rope. We have less than 14 months before next year’s presidential election. America is in desperate need of our president to rise again as the bold, thoughtful, prayerful, no holds barred people’s champion and leader we know him to be.
At the end of the day, leaders are not judged solely on their poll numbers, but rather their principles. And while poll numbers cannot be ignored, they should never be the compass guiding the leader. We are depending upon this great leader to change this nation and set it on the right course again. Will President Obama emerge as the courageous, audacious leader for these extraordinary times? I believe he will because that’s what great, audacious leaders do.
As always, keep the faith.
The Rev. Dr. Kevin R. Johnson is the senior pastor of the Bright Hope Baptist Church.
The African American Lutheran Association will gather for the 33rd annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. memorial service on Jan. 15. It will be held at New Life Ministries, 5401 Springfield Ave. and begin at 3 p.m.
This annual program is being co-sponsored by the African American Lutheran Association Philadelphia Chapter and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
For those involved in the event, the focus is not only celebrating King’s life and legacy but also reinforcing it.
“We should not only celebrate the life, but the legacy, of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” Dr. Addie Butler said.
“We’re getting to be a little bit concerned as we get to be aging people, but not aged yet, to be sure that our children and our grandchildren know the life and legacy and understand that came about through Dr. King’s efforts.”
Butler, who holds a doctorate in education, served as president of the African American Lutheran Association. She explained why she did not want his work to be forgotten and why it’s important for each generation to hold onto the flame.
“Each year, there’s something to learn and to draw from and to live by; each year, there’s a different aspect of Dr. King’s life or we’re approaching it from a completely different way,” she said.
“Even in our lifetime and even before, Dr. King really stands out and demands, commands our attention and respect.”
Maxine Young, one of this year’s co-chairpersons, shared the same opinion. She wanted this year’s participation to be as diverse as possible.
“What we want is to create more awareness about Martin Luther King in my opinion. Each one of us may think something different, but in my opinion it is to create more awareness about what he stood for,” Young said.
Rev. Isaac J. Miller, current interim pastor of Calvary, St. Augustine Church and former vicar of the historic Church of the Advocate in inner-city North Philadelphia, is the scheduled guest preacher.
“I think it’s always a question of how Martin’s legacy challenges us,” Miller said.
“I don’t think Martin did what he did just one day in the year. I think he was constantly at work on behalf of the movement for freedom and dignity for all people and justice, and it’s a joke to think you can do that one year.”
Miller shared how he would encourage others to take up King’s mantle beyond just one day.
“Hopefully, they come away with a clearer understanding of what’s going on and what we ought to be lifting up in prayer, what we ought to be thinking of getting involved in as adults and folks who are well beyond adulthood,” Miller said.
“I think it’s trying to sift through the world around us and doesn’t all happen in church, and that’s a part of the movement and spirit that I think goes right back to Martin, to the prophets and Jesus.”
Rev. Jesse Brown will be serving as the event’s emcee and stated that the mission King started needs to move outside the church.
“I think there are a number of things that require our attention that Martin Luther King left us, and that is of course in the broad sense of the word, helping to bring in the beloved community at a time when we are still at odds with each other, politically, socially, at a time when there’s chaos and turmoil in various parts of the world,” Brown said.
“Not to mention chaos in our own home, in a time when there’s economic, social and environmental distress to continue to push the notion of a beloved community becomes an even more challenging job and I think when people leave there, they come away with greater sense of how that community might come together.”
It’s amazing how, sometimes, old words have new meaning.
Take, for example, a classic play or novel. Take, for example, a favorite poem that great-grandfather tucked away in a family Bible, a story set in another era, or a letter written by a long-gone ancestor.
The words inside it might seem quaint and stiff. The format may not be familiar to you at all. You might not have known the writer but though the times are different, verses and thoughts put to paper 100 years — or even three generations — ago still shout their meaning.
And in the re-released book “The Trumpet of Conscience” (Beacon Press/$22) by Martin Luther King Jr., foreword by Coretta Scott King, new foreword by Marian Wright Edelman, you can hear some of them all over again.
When, in 1967, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation asked Martin Luther King Jr. to present a series of Massey Lectures for their listeners, King was told that he could speak on any topic that interested him and that was relevant to anyone in the world who might be listening.
He, of course, chose topics that were closest to his heart: nonviolent protest, civil disobedience, human rights for people of all races, and his dismay over the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.
In his lectures, Dr. King explained to his Canadian listeners what Canada meant to Black Americans. Spirituals, he said, so widely sung in American fields were made in code, and slaves sang of heaven.
“Heaven,” he said, “was the word for Canada …”
In thoughts that seem to reach out to protesters today, King explains youth as he saw it nearly forty years ago, lauding those who participate in nonviolent protest.
“… we must begin now to work, urgently, with all the peoples, to shape a new world,” he said prophetically.
On the Vietnam War, King spoke of travesty:
“And so we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools.”
First released in 1968, “The Trumpet of Conscience” is moving and powerful, a nice reminder to an older generation who grew up with King’s words in their ears.
The thing to remember is that people of a younger generation will need guidance with this book, mostly because parts of it are barely relevant to them. King discusses youth of the 1960s, as well as the Vietnam War, which was five years from ending when he gave these lectures. That information is good, but it may be lost on youngsters.
Still, these words are almighty and it’s hard not to hear King’s voice behind them. The good news is that that voice is on the accompanying audio CD, which makes this a great package for reflection and teaching.
If you’re looking for something to mark Dr. King’s birthday, this is just about perfect. Despite its age, “The Trumpet of Conscience” is still laden with meaning.
A number of years ago a bubbly young boy delivered a rousing speech about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during a Black History Month Oratorical Contest sponsored by the School District of Philadelphia.
“Dr. Martin Luther King was a great man,” this youngster said employing the rhetorical passion that made King such a fabled orator.
“Dr. King was a great man because he freed the slaves!”
Freed the slaves?
The freeing of the slaves in America occurred decades before King’s birth.
That youngster’s factual error is excusable due to his age-related lack of knowledge.
However, that young boy’s factual faux pas is inexcusable for the adults helping him prepare his speech and those conducting that Black History contest.
Yes, Dr. King was a great man achieving an incredible transformation of American society during his all too short life plus proving indelibly inspirational to generations around the world since his brutal assassination.
However, too much mythology shrouds the true meaning of King’s many messages.
And, unfortunately, Blacks actively aid the perpetuation of this King mythology to the detriment of King’s legacy.
The fact that this Black History Contest winning young boy’s misstatement about Dr. King’s accomplishments remained uncorrected by adults who should have known better highlights a sad circumstance: Too often Blacks are poor guardians of their own history.
Protecting and preserving King’s legacy means more than attending annual ceremonies fashioned around the face of Dr. King that American society is ready to accept: the man who sought an admirable [yet unattainable] utopia of interracial harmony.
Yes, Dr. King considered interracial harmony critical — but as King discussed during a prophetic speech delivered just hours before his murder on April 4, 1968, there was another, much larger, mission driving his life’s work.
“The issue is injustice.”
And at the core of that injustice Dr. King fought to change was the economic injustice responsible for impoverishment — yes, the poverty inflicted on the poor of all colors.
King formed his life’s commitment to challenge the injustice of systemic economic inequities ravaging American society during his childhood, according to a little known essay King authored while attending seminary school in the Philadelphia suburban city of Chester.
In that essay entitled “An Autobiography of Religious Development,” King said that as a child during America’s Great Depression of the 1930s he frequently saw the unemployed and impoverished “standing in bread lines” seeking food to sustain their basic lives.
“I can see the effects of this early childhood experience on my present anti-capitalistic feelings,” Dr. King stated in that hand-written essay prepared during his studies at that Chester seminary from 1948 to 1951.
We have to be vigilant about Dr. King’s legacy because forces still exist that are intent on marginalizing King.
For example, current GOP presidential candidate, Congressman Ron Paul, unashamedly rides electoral boosting rails among far-right-wing whites from his opposing the creation of the national holiday honoring King — the first and still only national holiday exclusively recognizing the contributions of a person of color.
And don’t forget the ilk of incendiary broadcast bigot Glenn Beck poisoning memories of Dr. King by fraudulently proclaiming that he and his hate-filled followers somehow own King’s legacy because they are the “true protectors” of civil rights, not the NAACP or activists like the Rev. Al Sharpton.
Much of the recent King Holiday commemorations centered on the “Dream” articulated during King’s legendary 1963 speech.
Myopic focus on King’s admirable “Dream” morphs him into some ethereal visionary instead of that clear-eyed, dedicated, action-oriented person, determined to fight the American nightmare of racial and class inequality.
Too many of the annual King Holiday retrospectives focus solely on those few lines in that 1963 speech advancing his envisioned “Dream” instead of probing the totality of his speech, containing piercing details about societal ills (from police brutality to voting rights deprivations) to glean insights relevant for contemporary application.
One insight applicable currently is fighting to complete an unfulfilled mission of Dr. King — ending America’s military misadventures abroad and reassigning those obscenely large expenditures for war into ending poverty in America — and around the world.
During the last year of his life Dr. King worked hard on two things: fighting to end poverty among the poor and fighting to end war in Vietnam which he considered an unjust endeavor draining money from fighting poverty.
During a speech declaring his public opposition to the Vietnam War, delivered exactly one year before his assassination, Dr. King discussed his disappointment at seeing “real promise of hope for the poor — both Black and white — through the poverty program … broken and eviscerated” by diverting federal funding to war in Southeast Asia.
“I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in the rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued,” King said, calling the siphoning of such aid to pay for war a “demonic destructive suction tube.”
Today, the poor in America are mushrooming in numbers because the middle class is being decimated by the class war waged ruthlessly through greed symbolized by Wall Street wealth.
And today, the federal government pours billions into unnecessary military mis-adventures in Afghanistan, Africa and possibly Iran.
Preserving and protecting King’s legacy means opposing those on Capitol Hill, Wall Street and in the White House waging unnecessary wars.
Wars further impoverish America, and that insults Dr. King…
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Fellowship Program.