These strong and direct words from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., reflect a far more expressive and uncompromising individual, in Dr. King, than the one society seeks to always present as a watered-down version of himself. Dr. King fought for us to have economic vibrancy, wealth generation, voting rights, social justice and freedom from police brutality and racial injustice.
As we look at the life and stellar legacy of Dr. King, one can only wonder what this great man would think of America today; especially after considering the sacrifices he and others had to make – the beatings; the marches; the constant fight against social and income inequality; and being arrested several times and spending significant time in jail.
If Dr. King would not have fallen victim to an assassin’s bullet on April 4, 1968, his past words and actions are a clear indication that he would not be “silent about these things that matter” to Black people in America today.
If Dr. King were alive today, he would be sounding the alarm concerning the plight of Black people, including every single issue that is negatively impacting Black people in this country.
Most people commonly refer to his famous 1963 speech, at the Lincoln Memorial, as the “I Have a Dream” speech, and the event as merely the “March on Washington.” However, the event was so much more. The event was actually called the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” and the original name of Dr. King’s speech was entitled, “Normalcy, Never Again.”
Dr. King spoke about the need for America to do the right thing by making sure Black people received the respect, freedom and justice they deserved and were rightfully owed.
Dr. King’s message to America on that day was more than just a dream. From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. King demanded that America re-evaluate itself, and make an immediate change so as to provide equal freedom and equal justice for Black people – a people who had suffered countless injustices and had consistently received disparate treatment in this country. He said:
“In a sense we have 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.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.”
Dr. King was a man who communicated passionately about the urgency that America should have to ensure Blacks improved their overall situations. Dr. King consistently sought to empower the Black community – not just with a message of non-violence and peace – but with a message that promoted economic strength; financial empowerment; political advancement; equality in social services; an acknowledgment and addressing of racism; a focus on ‘redistributing the pain’ of the Black struggle through economic boycotting; collective unity; and anything he felt was important enough to address so that the Black race could move forward in America without any avoidable hindrances.
Dr. King was more than just a Black man who had a “dream.” Dr. King was a Black man with a vision of what America should look like with Black people being a strong and viable part of it.
Dr. King wanted to let America know that normalcy would no longer be tolerated, and that Black people would no longer settle for the status-quo and the usual treatment. Dr. King wanted to let America know that things had to change. In his famous speech, Dr. King told America that day:
“It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.”
Since his “Normalcy, Never Again” speech, Dr. King’s vision of living in a colorblind society and in an America where racial equality reigns supreme, has been talked about, yet has been faced with many obstacles, including racism, especially since the election of America’s first Black president in 2008 – President Barack Obama.
Having a Black president was something Dr. King predicted, however, he also wanted much more than to have a Black person serve in a key role, but not see the overall condition of the people improved and upgraded.
Fast forward, some fifty-three years later, and Black Americans are still dealing with many of the same pertinent issues Dr. King fought to address during his lifetime – many at a greater level. Black Americans are still plagued with many issues that require the immediate attention of the American government, legislators, Corporate America, community activists and educators.
There are a lot of things that have changed for Black people since Dr. King’s 1963 speech, but one of the things that has sadly not changed for the better, has been the increase of unemployed Black Americans, from then to now. According to the Pew Research Center, the unemployment rate of Blacks has been about double that of Whites since 1954; which was the earliest year for which the Bureau of Labor Statistics has consistent unemployment data by race. Since 1954, Blacks went from a roughly 10 percent unemployment rate to nearly 13 percent in 2013; compared to Whites who went from a roughly 5 percent unemployment rate, to a little over 6 percent over the same period of time.
According to the law enforcement watchdog group Mapping Police Violence, police killed at least 336 Black people in the U.S. in 2015. Police departments disproportionately killed Black people, who were 41 percent of victims despite being only 20 percent of the population living in those cities, in the United States from January 1 – December 15, 2015. In addition, the report showed that Black people were three times more likely to be killed by police than White people, and 33 percent of Black victims were unarmed, compared to 18 percent of White victims. All the while, groups such as the Black Lives Matter movement are constantly belittled, vilified and treated like hardened criminals, because of their quest to see police brutality and vigilante attacks against unarmed and mentally ill Black people get addressed.
With educational rulings in California and Michigan, along with the recent Abigail Fisher case against the University of Texas, we see that affirmative action, which helped open doors and pave the way for many Black people decades ago in many arenas, such as education and Corporate America, has been challenged and is in danger of being completely eradicated.
According to the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, nationwide, Blacks represent 26 percent of juvenile arrests, 44 percent of youth who are detained, 46 percent of the youth who are judicially waived to criminal court and 58 percent of the youth admitted to state prisons.
According to the Sentencing Project, Blacks serve virtually as much time in prison for a drug offense (58.7 months) as Whites do for a violent offense (61.7 months).
According to the NAACP Criminal Justice Fact Sheet, about 14 million Whites and 2.6 million Blacks report using an illicit drug, and although five times as many Whites are using drugs as Blacks, it is Black people who are sent to prison for drug offenses at ten times the rate of Whites.
In addition to that, although Blacks represent only 12 percent of the total population of drug users, 38 percent of those arrested for drug offenses and 59 percent of those in state prison for a drug offense are Black.
In 2013, America witnessed the Supreme Court gut a major part of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act in a 5 to 4 decision – a signature piece of legislation that Dr. King fought for and got President Lyndon B. Johnson to eventually get signed into law.
Dr. King didn’t just fight to end segregation; he fought for Black people to have economic, social, political and educational equality. The first step is acknowledging that we have a serious problem as it relates to the treatment of Black people and then doing something to address it.
Annually, the nation honors and celebrates the life and legacy of Dr. King every third Monday in January – a day that has officially been set aside as a federal holiday.
So, as the entire nation celebrates the life and legacy of Dr. King, every American should take a moment to go on the Internet and do some real research on the writings and sermons of Dr. King.
By doing so, every American will better understand this powerful man, and get into the mind of a man who had more than a “dream” as it relates to what he hoped for America – especially the plight of Black Americans.
As the Forward Times joins in with people from all across America to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., it is only fitting that this great leader and visionary not only be respected as the historical hero and game changer he was, but also for the many sacrifices he made; the truths he spoke; and the convictions and principles he stood by – all for the sake of benefitting Black people, not only during his lifetime, but for the many future generations of Blacks having to live in this country without having to deal with the same issues he fought for.