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“The Most Dangerous Negro”: Daring To Dream Differently And Imagining Something Better

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” so disturbed the American power structure that the F.B.I. started spying on him in what The Washington Post called “one of its biggest surveillance operations in history.” The speech even moved the head of the agency’s domestic intelligence division to label King “the most dangerous Negro of the future in this nation from the standpoint of Communism, the Negro and national security.”

Of course, King wasn’t dangerous to the country but to the status quo. King demanded that America answer for her sins, that she be rustled from her waywardness, that she be true to herself and to the promise of her founding.

King was dangerous because he wouldn’t quietly accept — or allow a weary people to any longer quietly accept — what had been. He insisted that we all imagine — dream of — what could and must be.

That is not the mission of politicians. That is the mission of a movement’s Moses.

And those Moses figures are often born among the young who refuse to accept the conditions of their elders, who see injustice through innocent eyes.

King was just 34 years old in 1963.

As President Obama put it Wednesday:

“There’s a reason why so many who marched that day and in the days to come were young, for the young are unconstrained by habits of fear, unconstrained by the conventions of what is. They dared to dream different and to imagine something better. And I am convinced that same imagination, the same hunger of purpose serves in this generation.”

So now, America yearns for more of these young leaders, and in some ways it has found some, not just in the traditional civil rights struggle but also in the struggles to win L.G.B.T. rights and to maintain women’s reproductive rights.

Yet there remains a sort of cultural complacency in America. After young people took to the streets as part of the Arab Spring, many Americans, like myself, were left wondering what had become of American activism. When was the last time our young people felt so moved that they took to the streets to bring attention to an issue?

There were some glimmers of hope around Occupy Wall Street and the case of Trayvon Martin, but both movements have lost much of their steam, and neither produced a clear leader.

So as we rightfully commemorate the March on Washington and King’s speech, let us also pay particular attention to the content of that speech. King spoke of the “fierce urgency of now,” not the fierce urgency of nostalgia.

(I was struck by how old the speakers skewed this week during the commemorations.)

What is our fierce urgency? What is the present pressure? Who will be our King? What will be our cause?

There is a litany of issues that need our national attention and moral courage — mass incarceration, poverty, gun policy, voting rights, women’s access to health care, L.G.B.T. rights, educational equality, immigration reform.

And they’re all interrelated.

The same forces that fight to maintain or infringe on one area of equality generally have some kinship to the forces that fight another.

And yet, we speak in splinters. We don’t see the commonality of all these struggles and the common enemies to equality. And no leader has arisen to weave these threads together.

Martin Luther King was a preacher, not a politician. He applied pressure from outside the system, not from within it. And I’m convinced that both forms of pressure are necessary.

King’s staggering achievement is testament to what can be achieved by a man — or woman — possessed of clear conviction and rightly positioned on the side of justice and freedom. And it is a testament to the power of people united, physically gathering together so that they must be counted and considered, where they can no longer be ignored or written off.

There is a vacuum in the American body politic waiting to be filled by a young person of vision and courage, one not suckled to sleep by reality television and social media monotony.

The only question is who will that person be. Who will be this generation’s “most dangerous” American? The country is waiting.

 

By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, August 28, 2013

August 29, 2013 Posted by | Civil Rights, Martin Luther King Jr | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“I See The Problem”: Martin Luther King vs. Today’s Conservatives

Yes, I know you hate the fact that the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom is (1) being treated as a civic, rather than a factional, event and (2) that the speakers at the anniversary rally, and the accompanying news coverage, stressed liberal themes such as voting rights and health care.

Well, as the guy being guillotined said, I think I see your problem. Since MLK is now officially a hero, you’d like him to be a civic hero rather than a hero of the faction opposed to yours. But while he was alive, and for some time after his death, your faction hated him, and everything he stood for, and tried to defame him. No prominent conservative or libertarian politician, writer, or thinker supported the civil rights movement he led.

The factional split was not identical to the partisan split. There were (mostly Southern) Democratic racists who opposed the civil rights movement; they were known as Dixiecrats or “conservative Democrats,” and their heirs followed Strom Thurmond into the Republican Party, which they now dominate. There were also Republican supporters of civil rights; they were called “liberal Republicans” (I voted for a few of them) and your faction now calls people like them RINOs and has successfully purged them from the Republican Party.

Your faction was, adamantly and unanimously, on the wrong side of history, as spectacularly as the small share of progressives who supported the Soviet dictatorship. Even today, I have failed to find a single libertarian or conservative prepared to speak out against gutting the Voting Rights Act.

Martin Luther King died while on a campaign to support a public-sector labor union. You’re entitled to say that he was a bad man and a Communist, as your faction did while he was alive, and that his assassination was the natural result of his use of civil disobedience, which is what Ronald Reagan said at the time. You’re entitled to say that he was a great man but that his thoughts are no longer applicable to the current political situation. But what you’re not entitled to do is to pretend that, if he were alive today, MLK would not be fighting against you and everything you stand for. He would.

 

By: Mark Kleiman, Washington Monthly Ten Miles Square, August 28, 2013

August 29, 2013 Posted by | Conservatives, Martin Luther King Jr | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Journalistic Malpractice”: An Overlooked Dream, Now Remembered

The city of Washington had been on edge for days. Fearing a riot, mayhem or lord knows what, many left town to avoid the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The organizers predicted a crowd of more than 100,000 protesting Negroes, as we called black people then. Just the idea of such a horde seemed to scare the white residents of what was still a southern town.

There was no rush-hour traffic on Aug. 28, 1963; almost no one went to work. Downtown, the sidewalks were empty and businesses were closed. But at Union Station, the joint was jumping. So was the Greyhound bus station on New York Avenue. Scores of thousands — mostly black but about a third white — streamed out of trains and buses and began to march along the Mall toward the Lincoln Memorial.

I was a Post summer intern — a kid reporter on his first big story — and one of 60 staffers the paper deployed that day. This was a tiny fraction of the number of National Guardsmen and police on the streets but a veritable army for what was then still a provincial daily paper. Ben Gilbert, the imperious city editor, had spent weeks planning the coverage. With help from colleagues, he was about to make one of the biggest goofs of his long career.

I missed the first part of the march. I was sent to watch celebrities arrive at National Airport, where I attended a news conference by Marlon Brando, who wanted to be sure his presence was not misunderstood. Yes, Negroes were treated badly in the United States, Brando said, but “don’t forget the Indian problem.” As soon as the march was over, he promised, he would again be fighting to resolve “the Indian problem.”

I was then dispatched to the corner of Sixth Street and Constitution Avenue NW. Post reporters were stationed on every block of Constitution and throughout the Mall to cover any untoward incident. A sea of good-natured, well-dressed humanity paraded before me. The marchers carried signs but shouted no slogans. There was no hint of “trouble,” only the good news of a polite, orderly crowd.

But I was afraid of Gilbert, so I stayed at my post for several hours. Eventually I wandered toward the Lincoln Memorial, where the speeches had been delivered. It was a beautiful August afternoon, and everyone was having a fine time.

I was too late to hear the speeches but soon heard about them, particularly the address by John Lewis, a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. This is the same John Lewis we know today as an avuncular Georgia representative, a gentle though forceful agitator for the rights of African Americans and the poor. In 1963, Robert F. Kennedy’s Justice Department considered him a dangerous radical. So he got a disproportionate share of attention from reporters and officials.

The Post’s courtly civil rights reporter, Robert E. Lee Baker — he used Robert E. Baker as a less-provocative byline — reported: “Lewis had intended to scorch the Kennedy Administration and Congress and ‘cheap politicians’ in a highly emotional speech.” But, Baker wrote, “he toned it down.” No one got scorched.

The Post, however, got embarrassed. The main event that day was what we now call the “I Have a Dream” speech of Martin Luther King Jr., one of the most important speeches in U.S. history. But on the day it was given, The Post didn’t think so. We nearly failed to mention it at all.

We were poised and ready for a riot, for trouble, for unexpected events — but not for history to be made. Baker’s 1,300-word lead story, which began under a banner headline on the front page and summarized the events of the day, did not mention King’s name or his speech. It did note that the crowd easily exceeded 200,000, the biggest assemblage in Washington “within memory” — and they all remained “orderly.”

In that paper of Aug. 29, 1963, The Post published two dozen stories about the march. Every one missed the importance of King’s address. The words “I have a dream” appeared in only one, a wrap-up of the day’s rhetoric on Page A15 — in the fifth paragraph. We also printed brief excerpts from the speeches, but the three paragraphs chosen from King’s speech did not include “I have a dream.”

I’ve never seen anyone call us on this bit of journalistic malpractice. Perhaps this anniversary provides a good moment to cop a plea. We blew it.

 

By: Robert G. Kaiser, Associate Editor, The Washington Post, August 25, 2013

August 29, 2013 Posted by | Martin Luther King Jr | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Now Is The Time, Still”: The Invisible Issues Of 1963 Are Just As Invisible To Some Today

“So even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.” — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., August 28, 1963

This is “tomorrow.”

Meaning that unknowable future whose unknowable difficulties Martin Luther King invoked half a century ago when he told America about his dream. If you could somehow magically bring him here, that tomorrow would likely seem miraculous to him, faced as he was with a time when segregation, police brutality, employment discrimination and voter suppression were widely and openly practiced.

Here in tomorrow, after all, the president is black. The business mogul is black. The movie star is black. The sports icon is black. The reporter, the scholar, the lawyer, the teacher, the doctor… all of them are black. And King might think for a moment that he was wrong about tomorrow and its troubles.

It would not take long for him to see the grimy truth beneath the shiny surface, to learn that the perpetual suspect is also black. As are the indigent woman, the dropout, the fatherless child, the suppressed voter and the boy lying dead in the grass with candy and iced tea in his pocket.

King would see that for all the progress we have made, we live in a time of proud ignorance and moral cowardice wherein some white people — not all — smugly but incorrectly pronounce all racial problems solved. More galling, it is an era of such cognitive incoherence that conservatives — acolytes of the ideology against which King struggled all his life — now routinely claim ownership of his movement and kinship with his cause.

When he was under fire for questioning the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, for instance, Senator Rand Paul wanted it known that he’d have marched with King had he been of age. And he probably believes that.

But what people like Paul fail to grasp is that the issues against which African-Americans railed in 1963 were just as invisible to some of us back then as the issues of 2013 are to some of us right now. They did not see the evil of police brutality in ’63 any more than some of us can see the evil of mass incarceration now. They did not see how poll taxes rigged democracy against black people then any more than some of us can see how Voter ID laws do the same thing now.

So there’s fake courage in saying, “I would have been with Martin then.” Especially while ignoring issues that would press Martin now.

No, being there took — and still takes — real courage, beginning with the courage to do what some of us are too cowardly, hateful, stubborn or stupid to do: see what is right in front of your face.

Because when Martin Luther King said, “I have a dream,” he was not, contrary to what some of us seem to believe, calling people to co-sign some vague, airy vision of eventual utopia. No, he was calling people to work, work until “justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” This was not a sermon about the someday and the eventual. “Now is the time,” said King repeatedly. So it was. And so it is.

We live in King’s “tomorrow” and what he preached in that great rolling baritone at the temple of Lincoln 50 summers ago ought to inspire us anew in this post-Trayvon, post-Jena 6, post-Voting Rights Act, post-birther nonsense era. It ought to make us organize, agitate, educate and work with fresh determination. It ought to challenge you to ask yourself: What have you chosen not to see? And now, having seen it, what will you do to make it right?

Because, we face tomorrows of our own.

Thankfully, we move into them with the same elusive hope — and towering dream — of which King spoke, the one that has always driven African-American people even in the valley of deepest despair.

Free at last!

Free. At last.

 

By: Leonard Pitts Jr., The National Memo, August 26, 2013

August 27, 2013 Posted by | Martin Luther King Jr | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An American ‘Hyphenated’ Idiot”: Bobby Jindal Blames Racial Inequality On Minorities Being Too Proud Of Their Heritages

One day after thousands rallied at the March on Washington 50th anniversary demonstration, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) pitched the Republican civil rights vision…by criticizing minorities for not assimilating into American culture.

In a Politico op-ed Sunday, Jindal lamented that minorities place “undue emphasis” on heritage, and urged Americans to resist “the politically correct trend of changing the melting pot into a salad bowl” comprised of proudly ethnic identities.

Jindal insisted that, “while racism still rears its ugly head from time to time” since Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic “I have a dream” speech, the major race problem facing modern America is that minorities are too focused on their “separateness”:

Yet we still place far too much emphasis on our “separateness,” our heritage, ethnic background, skin color, etc. We live in the age of hyphenated Americans: Asian-Americans, Italian-Americans, African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Cuban-Americans, Indian-Americans, and Native Americans, to name just a few.

Here’s an idea: How about just “Americans?” That has a nice ring to it, if you ask me. Placing undue emphasis on our “separateness” is a step backward. Bring back the melting pot.

There is nothing wrong with people being proud of their different heritages. We have a long tradition of folks from all different backgrounds incorporating their traditions into the American experience, but we must resist the politically correct trend of changing the melting pot into a salad bowl. E pluribus Unum.

If he had done even cursory research before writing his editorial, Jindal may have discovered some systemic inequities preventing minorities from assimilating to his satisfaction. Though Jindal is right that Americans have made “significant progress” since the March On Washington For Jobs And Freedom, the national black unemployment rate has steadily remained double the white unemployment rate for the past 60 years.

In urban areas like Chicago, the poverty rate and median income for black families is also about the same as it was in 1963.

Even segregation, once vanquished by the civil rights movement, is rebounding aggressively. Since 2001, urban schools and neighborhoods have become increasingly re-segregated through lax integration enforcement and so-called “white flight.” Research shows this resegregation intensifies poverty and violence in minority neighborhoods, trapping black families in an endless cycle. Jindal himself has helped this trend along in New Orleans with his school privatization plan, which has worsened racial inequality in 34 historically segregated public schools and, according to the Justice Department, “reversed much of the progress made toward integration.”

 

By: Aviva Shen, Think Progress, August 25, 2013

August 26, 2013 Posted by | Civil Rights, Race and Ethnicity | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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