Point of View Columns

King Had More Than a Dream

The recent national celebration of the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr. illustrated the caution with which the lens of history should be used. Obviously history depends upon who is telling the story and what are the motives of the historian. In the case of Martin Luther King there are competing motives.

Many of the celebrants who extol Dr. King’s virtues as a peacemaker and an advocate of universal harmony conveniently forget (or neglect) the broader of the story of this man. Seen through the lens of the times in which he lived he was a radical. Dr. King fought against a system of American institutionalized racism that was so vicious that a man could be killed for seeking the vote for Black Americans (e.g. Medgar Evers shot to death in his driveway in Mississippi in 1963 or for going to church on Sunday to worship God (four Black girls murdered by Ku Klux Klan bombers at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, also in 1963)

Only a radical Black man would stand up against the system of American racism that had countenanced, indeed accepted, the lynching of thousands of Black men and women in the 100 years prior to the Montgomery bus boycott that brought Dr. King to national attention. And only a radical Black man would seek to inspire Black people to shed the cloak of subtle resistance and instead to take up the armor of confronting the hatred and racism that flowed unchecked through the American bloodstream.

Much has been made about Dr. King’s commitment to non-violence without taking into account that he understood the very radical strategy employed successfully by Mahatma Gandhi. Both Gandhi and Dr. King understood that their enemy – the British in India and white American racists (and their enablers) in America, would meet resistance and protest with unimaginably vicious violence and hatred.

They both understood that strategically, exposing the imperialists in India and the racists in America for who they were would ultimately induce such shame and disgust that change would have to come. Certainly the imperfect results in India and America should not diminish the understanding that true victories were won against odds that would have been insuperable in violent conflict.

Dr. King espoused nonviolence as a strategy. He did not advocate complacency or the peaceful and timid acceptance of the status quo. Dr. King sought to uproot the status quo and for proof we need to go no further than to remember that Dr. King identified income equality and poverty as evils that also had to be confronted. He also understood the error of American imperialism so tragically exposed in the Vietnam War. And for taking those positions he was criticized and shunned by many in a country that now seeks to honor a sanitized version of a man who sought to change the world.

Even the so-called “I Have a Dream” speech has been misinterpreted and miscast as an expression of hope for a better day in some vague day in the by and by. But a more truthful understanding of his radical call for change on that August day in 1963 is revealed in his words before his reference to the “dream”. Consider some of these excerpts, clearly spoken and just as clearly, conveniently ignored:

“One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.”

“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.”

“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.”

“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.”

“No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

These were the words of a man who had a clear-eyed vision of the vile and hateful nature of institutionalized racism and these were the words of a man who fought against it literally to his dying day. Those who wish to praise Dr. King without acknowledging his radical stance in the face of what were (and are) overwhelming odds, do not do justice to his memory.

Those who wish sugarcoat the memory of Dr. King through mythical hagiography dishonor everything that he stood for and died for.

It is right to remember Dr. King. It is also right to remember that he had a lot more than a dream.

 

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Point of View Columns

The Eternal Terror

Perhaps the Confederate flag in South Carolina will fly at half mast now that a damaged excuse for a human being named Dylann Roof killed nine black people in a South Carolina Church. All reports indicate that Roof sought to kill black people so this was not a random act of murder – this was an act of terrorism. And this latter day Neanderthal monster reminds us that American terrorism directed against black people is a horrific and very real part of the history and present tense of this country.

Consider the irony in the fact that the site of the murders, Emanuel AME Church, was founded by Denmark Vesey who had plotted an extensive slave revolt which failed in 1822. After Denmark Vesey as executed, white South Carolinians burned the Emanuel AME Church to the ground and actually banned all black churches in the state in 1834. The history of Emanuel AME Church is soaked in blood and scarred by the fires of hatred and bigotry.

And the history of Emanuel AME Church is an important reminder as we consider the current atrocity at that church. Terror against black people has been a constant theme in this country starting with the Barbadian Slave Codes which were then exported to the American colonies, beginning with South Carolina.

The Slave Codes were created to impose absolute white domination over black slaves, and to protect against slave revolts and as well as safeguarding the significant financial investment that slaves represented. Under the Slave Codes there were literally no limits to the violence and savagery that could be suffered by black Americans. Indeed, it can be argued that Slave Codes injected the virus of white racist violence and terrorism that still runs through the veins of America.

There should be no doubt that the Slave Codes begat Jim Crow which begat wholesale lynching which begat legally sanctioned terrorism to confront the civil rights movement. Lest one think that this virus is confined to the former Confederate States of America it should be clear that New York City and Boston police worked closely with slave catchers and the state of Indiana had the largest Ku Klux Klan membership of any state in the history of this country.

Dylann Roof is a direct descendant of the mobs that confronted the Little Rock Nine in Arkansas and James Meredith at the University of Mississippi as well as Louise Day Hicks who encouraged the attacks on school buses carrying black children in Boston. Dylann Roof is a direct descendant of the Klansmen and the “ordinary citizens” who organized and participated in the lynching of thousands of black men and women in the 19th and 20th centuries. Dylann Roof is a blood relative of the terrorists who bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham and he belongs to the same family as the scores of police officers who have shot and killed black men, women and children without cause, simply because they were black men, black women and black children.

We should all be saddened by the carnage in Charleston. But we should not be shocked. Terrorism directed against black Americans is part of American history.

And we should certainly not be shocked by Dylann Roof’s actions – after all, he is a white American. And there can be no cure for the disease of white racial terrorism in this country that still afflicts so many white Americans until we are willing to accept that the illness exists.

It is the first step to recovery.

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Be My Guest

Never Forget – Guest Column by William Burgess III

Sunday, September 15, 1963 at 11:00AM

Today marks the 47th Anniversary of the terrorist Bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church in my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama and the tragic death of 4 friends of mine.

Bless their souls & supreme sacrifice for our freedom.

Never forget,
Bill

William Burgess is the President of The Burgess Group – Corporate Recruting International – http://www.theburgessgroup.com. He was a pallbearer at 3 of the 4 girls’ funerals (Carol Robinson/14, Cynthia Wesley/14 & Denise McNair/11 yrs. old).

William H. Burgess, III
President
The Burgess Group – Corporate Recruiters International, Inc.

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