By Reverend Dr. John E. Jackson, Sr.
“I pointed out to you the brightest star in the heavens and all you saw was the tip of my finger”
– African Proverb
As we prepare to be inundated with commercials and talking heads in the media who will act like they adore Dr. King, please let some of us sober minded people remember.
Remember first of all how King was really viewed in this nation, from the mouth of his daughter Reverend Bernice King, when she wrote these words: “Please don’t act like everyone loved my father. He was assassinated. A 1967 poll reflected that he was one of the most hated men in America. Most hated. Many who quote him now and evoke him to deter justice today would likely hate, and may already hate, the authentic King.”
I wonder if any of the racists who want to claim to be conservative and right wing will wax eloquently on how much King was hated because he dared organize for equality and equity for all people?
It was April 4, 1967 when Dr. King gave a sermon at the Riverside Church in New York in which he said “We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values…When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets, of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”
In American society corporations enjoy generous tax cuts, and those same corporations record, record profits during a pandemic. The U. S. Congress can vote to send billions multiple times, to support Ukraine (and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is unjust and should be resisted).
At the same time Congress cannot pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act (H.R.1) to help restore what the conservative Supreme Court gutted or pass the George Floyd Justice In Policing Act (H.R.7120); or protect a woman’s reproductive rights, or establish a living wage for workers, or provide Universal Healthcare (like the members of Congress enjoy).
I wonder if King’s words about America’s triple evils of “Militarism, Extreme Materialism and Racism” will be recited this year?
We are guaranteed to hear snippets of his media named “I have A Dream Speech,” delivered at the 1963 March on Washington, but will we hear it in context? Will we hear pundits point out that “I Have a Dream,” was not the title of the speech? Will we hear that the substance of the speech was in the words of King that “America has defaulted on a 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 which has come back marked insufficient funds.”
Will it be pointed out that as King spoke in 1963 that people in the audience seemed somewhat uninterested until the great Mahalia Jackson sitting behind King shouted to him “Tell them about your dream Martin,” and that’s when King closed his sermon like any good Baptist preacher would do on some good news and in this case he started “I have a dream.”
In fact, instead of playing in heavy rotation King’s speech at the March on Washington, how about playing in its entirety his sermon at Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee, his last sermon in life, where he put forth an economic strategy for Black people when he said “…We’ll have to do this: Always anchor our external direct action with the power of economic withdrawal…We’ve got to strengthen Black institutions. I call upon you to take your money out of the banks downtown and deposit your money in Tri-State Bank – we want a Bank in movement in Memphis.”
King was, without naming it, lifting up the Kwanzaa principles of Ujima which means collective work and responsibility, and Ujamaa which means cooperative economics.
I wonder if his instructions to support Black business to build Black institutions will be in heavy rotation by the pundits this year?
Finally, I wonder if anyone will repeat the sobering reminder from our Queen Mother, Elder Marian Wright Edelman, in her op-ed to the Huff Post in 2017, where she reminded us of this fact, that “On the day he [Dr. King] was assassinated, he called his mother to give her his next Sunday’s sermon title: “Why America May Go to Hell.” In it he warned that “America is going to hell if we don’t use her vast resources to end poverty and make it possible for all of God’s children to have the basic necessities of life.”
If not, then can somebody read King’s last book “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” and let us have discussions on his analysis that is in the book?
But please let us revere this Jegna of our people with the dignity and respect he so deserves. Let us never forget that Dr. King could not make change all by himself but that there were thousands of people who made it possible for us to know his name. People like Ella Baker, Septima Clark, Jo Ann Robinson, Rosa Parks, Claudette Colvin, E.D. Nixon, Bayard Rustin, Fannie Lou Hamer, John Lewis, Kwame Touré, and so many more.
Let us never forget the hundreds of churches that provided places for organizing, mobilizing and training for persons in the movement for justice in this nation.
Let us never forget that we once had entertainers who were true activists who gladly sacrificed lucrative careers and projects to not only be associated with King and the movement but to finance it and participate in it. People like Harry Belafonte, Sidney Portier, Dick Gregory, Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, Maya Angelou, and Cicely Tyson and so many more.
Let us not stand for ever again the sanitizing of Dr. King’s legacy or the radical legacy of a marvelous movement for justice that still is moving today toward a just society.
Jesus said “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” Be Free Today!
Rev. Dr. John E. Jackson, Sr. is the Senior Pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ-Gary, 1276 W. 20th Ave. in Gary. “We are not just another church but we are a culturally conscious, Christ-centered church, committed to the community; We are Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian.” Contact the church by email at [email protected] or by phone at 219-944-0500.