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“The Opiate Of Delay Persists”: Lest We Forget, Martin Luther King Jr’s Dream Still Echoes Today

The things we forget about the March on Washington are the things we most need to remember 50 years on.

We forget that the majestically peaceful assemblage that moved a nation came in the wake of brutal resistance to civil rights and equality. And that there would be more to come.

A young organizer named John Lewis spoke at the march of living “in constant fear of a police state.” He would suffer more. On March 7, 1965, Lewis and his colleague Hosea Williams led marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. They were met by mounted state troopers who would fracture Lewis’s skull. As we celebrate Lewis’s ultimate triumph and his distinguished career in the House of Representatives, we should never lose sight of all it took for him to get there.

We forget that the formal name of the great gathering before the Lincoln Memorial was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Jobs came first, an acknowledgement that the ability to enjoy liberty depends upon having the economic wherewithal to exercise our rights. The organizing manual for the march, as Michele Norris pointed out in Time magazine, spoke of demands that included “dignified jobs at decent wages.” It is a demand as relevant as ever.

We forget that many who were called moderate — including good people who supported civil rights — kept counseling patience and worried that the march might unleash violence.

Martin Luther King Jr. answered them in the oration that would introduce tens of millions of white Americans to the moral rhythms and scriptural poetry that define the African American pulpit.

“We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now,” King declared. “This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.” How often has the opiate of delay been prescribed to scuttle social change?

King’s dream speech was partly planned and partly improvised, as Taylor Branch reported in “Parting the Waters,” his book on the early King years. One reviewer of the speech, a principal target of King’s persuasion, pronounced it a success. “He’s damn good,” President John F. Kennedy told his aides in the White House.

He was. King’s genius lay in striking a precise balance between comforting his fellow citizens and challenging them. Like Lincoln before him, King discovered the call for justice in the promises of our founders.

“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,” King said. “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.” King’s dream was the latest chapter in our story. “It is a dream,” he insisted, “deeply rooted in the American Dream.”

We also remember how profoundly colorblind King’s dream was. He looked to a day when “little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls.”

We forget that the passage immediately preceding his description of those happy children was a sharp rebuke to the state of “Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of ‘interposition’ and ‘nullification.’ ” He was referencing discredited states’-rights notions invoked to deny the rights of Americans of color. I intend no offense here toward Alabama. But we should recognize the origins of slogans still widely used today to thwart the advance of equal rights.

And at a moment when voting rights are again under threat, the historian Gary May’s new book on the Voting Rights Act, “Bending Toward Justice,” reminds us of what King said in 1957, at another Lincoln Memorial rally. Without the right to cast a ballot, King said, “I cannot make up my own mind — it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen, observing the laws I have helped enact — I can only submit to the edict of others.” Are we turning back to such a time?

King called our country forward on that beautiful day in 1963, but he also called out our failings. He told us there could be no peace without justice, and no justice without struggle. We honor him best by sharing not only his hope but also his impatience and his resolve.

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 21, 2013

August 24, 2013 Posted by | Martin Luther King Jr | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Complete Ignorance”: Does Rush Limbaugh Think Civil Rights Activists Should Have Shot Cops?

Under the guidance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the practice of nonviolence was an historic cornerstone of the American civil rights movement. Writing in 1966, Dr. King affirmed, “I am convinced that for practical as well as moral reasons, nonviolence offers the only road to freedom for my people.”

But last week, spinning on behalf of gun advocates and continuing the far-right’s convoluted attempt to equate Second Amendment supporters to modern-day civil rights protesters, Rush Limbaugh suggested that if civil rights activists had brandished guns maybe the movement could have better protected itself from segregationist foes [emphasis added]:

LIMBAUGH: If a lot of African-Americans back in the ’60s had guns and the legal right to use them for self-defense, you think they would have needed Selma? I don’t know. I’m just asking. If (Rep) John Lewis, who says he was beat upside the head, if John Lewis had had a gun, would he have been beat upside the head on the bridge?

Basically Limbaugh, stretching to make an absurd point about guns in America, suggested it would have been better if Dr. King’s non-violent crusade had embraced firearms as a way to advance its cause.

Specifically, the right-wing talker wondered if civil rights icon John Lewis had been carrying a gun on March 7, 1965, would Lewis still have been beaten when he led 600 unarmed activists across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, AL. (aka “Bloody Sunday.”)

Not only is the gun suggestion an insult to the non-violent philosophy that Dr. King preached in the name of social justice, but it also highlights Limbaugh’s complete ignorance about the civil rights movement and who was handing out the beatings at the time. As Lewis noted while responding to Limbaugh’s comments last week, “Violence begets violence, and we believed the only way to achieve peaceful ends was through peaceful means.”

Fact: The people attacking black activists that day in Selma were Alabama state troopers. If, as Limbaugh suggested, Lewis had a gun and was willing to use it against his aggressors, if he had fired in “self-defense” after troopers charged into the crowd of peaceful protesters, that would have meant Lewis spraying bullets into a crowd of white policemen.

One can only imagine what the repercussions would have been in segregated Alabama, in 1965, and what that would have done to the cause of civil rights in the South.

Limbaugh and others are going so far around the bend trying to argue the benefits of guns and how virtually all Americans should be armed, that they’re producing historic scenarios that most people (and especially Limbaugh) would have treated as radical and revolutionary. Like civil rights marchers opening fire on policemen in 1965. (Or the idea that gun-toting African-Americans could have eradicated slavery centuries ago.)

Also, note that by telling listeners Lewis “says he was beat upside the head” during the Selma protest (emphasis on his use of “says”), Limbaugh seemed to indicate the point was open to debate or interpretation. However, this famous news photograph showing Lewis knocked to the ground in Selma and being beaten by an Alabama state trooper leaves no doubt as to what happened that day.

 

By: Eric Boehlert, The Huffington Post, January 22, 2013

January 26, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“More Resolute, More Seasoned”: President Obama’s Inaugural Address Was A Modern Speech Steeped In History

President Obama gave a truly American speech yesterday. It resonated from the opening reference to “all men are created equal with certain unalienable rights,” to his constant refrain of “we, the people.”

It was in many ways a stronger speech than four years ago, more resolute, more seasoned, more ready to ensure that America lives up to the words expressed in the Declaration of Independence. It was a speech for a modern era, acknowledging the rapid change of the 21st century.

The strong thread of his speech was the strong history of America, from the war for independence to the emancipation proclamation 150 years ago to the March on Washington 50 years ago. “From Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall,” the President highlighted the guiding value that all are created equal. The age-old creed was made modern and relevant to all Americans — of any color, any natural origin, any gender, any sexual orientation.

The notion that an inaugural address would mention gay marriage and highlight the start of the gay revolution at Stonewall would have been unthinkable a decade or two ago. What an amazing transformation.

The melding of traditional aspirational values and the struggle to solve modern American problems was inspiring. He was forward looking and pragmatic when it came to tackling the issues of immigration reform, climate change, equal economic opportunity, helping the most vulnerable. And he was equally pragmatic when he recognized that “outworn programs are inadequate to our times” and that government is not the answer to all our problems.

But his was a defense of government as “we, the people” to achieve what our framers designed. He did not deride government or Washington but set out a positive, progressive, future for us to pursue together. This was a change from what we have heard over the past thirty years.

It was, in many ways, a very modern speech clothed in the best of our history to act as a call to Americans. This is a president now comfortable with the bully pulpit and a leader committed to using it in the years ahead. You will see a Barack Obama ready to inspire and organize people for the cause. My guess is that this speech was just the beginning.

 

By: Peter Fenn, U. S. News and World Report, January 22, 2013

January 24, 2013 Posted by | Inauguration 2013 | , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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