Rahim Islam is a National Speaker and Writer, Convener of Philadelphia Community of Leaders, and President/CEO of Universal Companies, a community development and education management company headquartered in Philadelphia, PA. Follow Rahim Islam on FaceBook(Rahim Islam) & Twitter (@RahimIslamUC)
“We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
(Ben Franklin Quote – At the signing of the Declaration of Independence)
As we continue to honor the birth of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and head into Black History Month, we must truly reflect on Dr. King’s life, sacrifices and leadership in the pursuit of freedom, justice and equality for all of humanity, but specifically Black people in America.
Unfortunately, we have some repairing to do because Dr. King’s life and legacy has been hijacked by the liberal left who think they have our interests at heart but have yet to truly understand the Black people’s dilemma.
I call them “liberal colonists” (they are liberal to a point) because all of their solutions involve them doing for the Black man versus assisting the Black man to do for self – they don’t understand that to give a person a fish, he/ she eats for a day. But teach him/her how to fish and he/she can eat for a lifetime (he/she can do for self).
Dr. King, in many respects, has been portrayed as a pacifist, dreamer, and a person who was fixed on integration and nothing could be further from the truth.
Dr. King was a true warrior for Black people. He was a liberator and his real example needs to be expressed because the Black community needs his leadership today now, more urgently than before.
If Dr. King was here today, he would find some of the same problems and issues he fought against during the 60s.
America’s mass media, which never portrayed Black people in any positive light, have mass marketed Dr. King to be the least threatening civil rights activist.
We must remember Dr. King didn’t die in his sleep or by natural causes – he was assassinated for being such a bold Black man and now his image has been assassinated.
Let me ask you if you believe the “real” Dr. King would be what the White media would promote.
Yes, White America should be lauded for acknowledging and honoring Dr. King, but they’ve missed the mark and they have not truly reflected on what he meant to the Black community.
Dr. King’s short life was so impactful and worthy of continuous study. It should be a curriculum taught in schools and institutions of higher learning.
We must study and teach not only his philosophies and beliefs, but how he fought, why he fought, and whom he fought – these aspects are just as important.
While Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech was profound, he made many profound speeches and the turbulence of the 60s coupled with a number of people, events, and activities would ultimately shape the Black struggle during this time.
Through it all, Dr. King was pivotal but he grew and evolved as did his message.
A world of activity took place between his “I have a dream” speech in 1963 and his “I’ve seen the promise land” speech and subsequent death in 1968.
During this period, Dr. King began to focus on more on economics and less on civil rights.
In addition, Dr. King became a target for his opposition to the Vietnam War – he was perceived to be a traitor in the eyes of many White Americans.
The proof that we have failed to truly understand and to emulate Dr. King lies in the current outcomes for the Black community in Milwaukee. The current outcomes are horrific and much worse than it was during the life of Dr. King. Milwaukee has the dubious honor of honoring his holiday for 32 years – second only to Atlanta, his birthplace. Given that Milwaukee, by all accounts, is the “worst” place to live for Blacks, something must be wrong and all of the celebration hasn’t produce the desired actions that reflects Dr. King’s life.
This is an indictment, not only of White Milwaukee but also of Black Milwaukee. Dr. King’s entire life is the perfect example we must emulate to fight oppression and to be the voice of the voiceless.
At the core, we have failed Dr. King and his legacy because we have morphed into becoming procrastinators versus being change agents.
Dr. King and others were solely responsible for the landmark civil rights legislations in the 1960s – these achievements are second in importance only to the emancipation of Black people in 1863 and we must put Dr. King and the civil rights movement in proper context -it was huge struggle and victory.
We say landmark for a number of reasons because it truly was a long fight but remarkable victory.
It not only took a sustained 60 years of activity but numerous sacrifices and the loss of life.
After the constitutional amendments that abolished slavery and gave former slaves the full political rights of citizens (the foundation for our democracy) and after a brief period of Reconstruction where America attempted to support the transition of Blacks from enslavement to freedom, there were many states that blocked these efforts and as a result, “slavery” type conditions would prevail for Black people for nearly another 100 years.
The civil rights gains were not intended to be “one and done.”
Outward and visible acts of racism and discrimination were challenged and civil rights legislation gave relief to the victims in our Federal courts.
Many state laws, which had previously supported racism and discrimination were countered by federal law to support fair treatment of black people.
This wasn’t absolute and things didn’t changed overnight.
The acts of racism and discrimination continued and now Blacks had federal courts they could pursue to challenge these things.
However, many times the damage was already done. In the time gap between emancipation and the civil rights legislation (100 years), America refused to make any repairs to what it did to the Black community and after the passage, White supremacists changed their behaviors to hide behind new “false” and “unreasonable” standards, procedures, rules and regulations -systemic and structural racism-that have the same impact as pre-civil rights legislation.
Dr. King fought against the new slavery of Black people.
In April 1963, Dr. King was arrested and sent to jail because he and others were protesting the treatment of Blacks in Birmingham, Alabama.
A court had ordered that King could not hold protests in Birmingham.
At that time, Blacks were totally segregated from Whites and Blacks could only sit in designated places in public areas, they could not go into certain businesses nor could they use public rest rooms that were for designated for “Whites only.”
Dr. King was accused of being an outsider and antagonistic inflaming Blacks when Whites believed Blacks were perfectly okay with this unfair treatment. While Dr. King was in jail, he wrote a letter to the newspaper explaining why he had broken the law.
“While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities unwise and untimely.
Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas.
If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work.
But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms…Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states.
I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Dr. King, April 16, 1963 – Letter from the Birmingham Jail.
The full letter must become a study tool for our families and within our institutions of learning because the concepts and ideas are therein are what fueled Dr. King.
Because Black people had suffered injustice for so long, Dr. King believed we should not have to wait any longer for change.
While American State laws supported the oppression of Black people and legitimized White supremacy, God’s law is higher and greater and Dr. King was willing to go to jail for what he believed. Dr. King proved with his stance that we don’t have to wait for justice to come when injustice prevails – we must address it by challenging anyone or anything that is upholding and supporting the oppression or injustice.
For Black and White people who say they idolize Dr. King, I asked, where is the protest?
What we have in honor of Dr. King’s birthday is a day of service which is absolutely a distraction from what this hero was really about – fighting the oppressor on behalf of the oppressed.
Dr. King’s efforts helped to produce the Civil Rights legislation.
We must defend the leadership of Dr. King with action, not insignificant celebration.
In June 1963, President John Kennedy proposed the most comprehensive Civil Rights legislation to date, saying the United States “will not be fully free until all of its citizens are free.”
Kennedy was assassinated that November in Dallas, after which new President Lyndon B. Johnson immediately took up the cause.
During debate on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, southerners argued the bill was unconstitutional and introduced nearly 100 hostile amendments-delays and fights, which were ultimately defeated with bipartisan support by a vote of 290- 130.
The bill then moved to the Senate where democrats staged a 75-day filibuster –among the longest in U.S. history.
After this legislation was passed, several other bills were passed to make racism illegal – the Black community hasn’t had a win like this since and the physical loss of Dr. King has contributed significantly to this lull.
Given the horrible conditions perpetuated by White supremacists, the US Congress didn’t pass a single civil rights act until Dr. King and others waged the demands and fight.
I say others, because there were so many others but no one can deny the contribution and the impact of Dr. King.
The March on Washington on August 28, 1963, which was the largest demonstration in America’s history; the numerous marches and rallies across the country; and the general unrest by Black America forced the American government to finally do something. I believe the “I have a dream speech” by Dr. King at the March on Washington was the catalyst for and expedited the passage of Civil Rights legislation.
While it was called the “I have a dream” speech there were more critical points that have been overlooked in his speech.
“But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free.
One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.
One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.
In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.
This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”
There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.
I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest – quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.” Dr. King, August 28, 1963 – March on Washington DC.
I believe some aspects of this speech coupled with subsequent speeches, and America owes a debt to the Black community and, in many respects, this is the case for economic reparations. Dr. King referenced a period of 100 years that has now grown to 150 years of struggles for Black people in America (so those who think this is some new charge are simply ignorant). In addition, Dr. King referenced when we should be satisfied and when the struggle would be victorious. He referenced police brutality which is exposed today because of the prolific level of personal video cameras. The problem of police brutality hasn’t changed since this speech and in many respects has increased.
“I have a dream this afternoon that my four little children will not come up in the same young days that I came up within, but they will be judged on the basis of the content of their character, not the color of their skin.” Dr. King, August 28, 1963 – March on Washington DC.
While many have stated that these words in 1963 would go down as some of the most important addresses in U.S. history, I have a hard time accepting this dream could ever be achieved when fundamentally, Blacks are viewed as inferior to Whites. This view is complete and represents 360 degrees of American life. In addition, Whites will never judge Blacks equally until Black people abandon the belief in Black inferiority. Regardless of how you interpret his speech, the impact that he had personally on the civil rights movement and its impact on the Civil Rights Legislation cannot be underestimated because it was the beginning of America’s fixing the wrongs it has done to Black people.
Let’s be for real and tell the truth. Yes, Black Americans has been severely damaged by nearly 450 years of unparalleled struggle that continues today. The struggle and the conditions, which are historical in nature, appears to depict Black people as inferior but this depiction is absolutely WRONG. When we know our history, we can make the distinction between inferiority and oppression. Black people are not inherently or genetically damaged, Black Americans were damaged by sick White supremacy that evolved into an American Institution. America must accept a great degree of responsibility and this is the fight because they’re in deep denial. Today, White America enjoys an extreme level of advantage and privilege gained from the enslavement and subhuman treatment of Black people WITHOUT ANY COMPENSATION. Remember, our Black ancestors were not guilty of any crime; they were not casualties of war – unspeakable acts were done to our ancestors including the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.
If we examine the conditions today for Black people, Blacks continue to be traumatized by White supremacy and Black inferiority at every level in America (i.e. media, historical, physical environment, religion, imprisonment, health, wealth, poverty, etc.). I call this the legacy of slavery and its impact is embedded in every aspect of American life making the “oppressor” a little more deceptive. The Black community in America suffers disproportionately than any other group in America and this fact hasn’t improved since emancipation. These and other conditions are the symptoms of the trauma that Blacks are experiencing daily. Even the most liberated Black man and woman has deep fears and insecurities and carries a heavy dose of Black inferiority – how else can you explain our “collective” paralysis? In spite of the individual accomplishments by Black people, as a collective, we are at the bottom of the economic ladder and without purposeful and real conversations about what the “core” problems are.
Dr. King was about “doing” and “action” even though he was one of the greatest orators in modern history. It wasn’t just the style by which he spoke, it was the instruction and wisdom that he conveyed. During the 60s, a number of strategies were undertaken by members of the Black community to fight racism and many didn’t like the peaceful and non-violent approach of Dr. King. Black militant H. Rap Brown was one of them. He is perhaps most famous for his proclamation during that period that “violence is as American as cherry pie,” as well as once stating that “if America don’t come around, we’re gonna burn it down.”
This approach was completely against the non-violent approach of Dr. King – not because one is weaker than the other. Non-violence is the personal practice of being harmless to self and others under every condition. Non-violence also has ‘active’ or ‘activist’ elements, in that believers accept the need for nonviolence as a means to achieve political and social change. In general, advocates of an activist philosophy of non-violence use diverse methods in their campaigns for social change, including critical forms of education and persuasion, mass noncooperation, civil disobedience, non-violent direct action, and social, political, cultural and economic forms of intervention. Nonviolent methods of action have been a powerful tool for social protest and revolutionary social and political change.
In part two of Reflections on Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: We Must Defend His Leadership with Actions, I will breakdown a few more speeches and try to show how these concepts are related.