During this time of the year, we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Our ancestors came from the rivers and shores of Africa. Many of our ancestors were political leaders, teachers, scholars, athletes, great speakers, inventors, mathematicians, cooks, architects, builders, and other great human beings. Centuries ago, evil imperialists and their allies enslaved our ancestors, placed them in chains, and sent them into the Americas. The Maafa lasted from the 15th century to the 19th century. In that time frame, black people resisted tyranny courageously via rebellions, escapes, protests, self-defense, and other actions. The Stono Rebellion was about black people trying to free themselves from bondage in South Carolina. Therefore, our ancestors fought for our rights. Many abolitionists worked worldwide to abolish slavery in the Americas. Elizabeth Freeman fought for her rights in New England. Harriet Tubman saved lives and Frederick Douglas used his voice to passionately oppose injustices like slavery and discrimination. Dr. King was a heroic man who stood up for justice and human equality. He spoke out on issues on many times when it was very popular to speak out. Yet, he was diligent and courageous to speak out for civil rights and opposing the war in Vietnam. He also stood up for social justice and economic justice too. He cared for the poor in desiring a true radical redistribution of economic and political power, so poorer Americans can receive the resources necessary for them to have true human liberation. Back then and today, we are still in a struggle to fight for the Dream to be a reality. We live in uncertain times with a male extremist who not only disrespected John Lewis, but he has spewed sexism, xenophobia, and racism. Therefore, we are far from over in our journey. We shall not be moved. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born in 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. With a determined gift to believe in intellectual development and an eloquent voice, he graduated from high school at a very young age of 15 years old. His first college that he attended was in Morehouse College, which was a historically black college. In 1948, he graduated from Morehouse with a B.A. in sociology. Later, he came into a theological school in the North called Crozier Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania which he graduated from with a B. Div. Degree in 1951. Throughout his life, Dr. King experienced discrimination, racism, assaults, and other injustices. Yet, he never gave up hope. He always spoke about hope, change, and human rights.
His remarkable life exemplifies the power of the human will. He was arrested multiple times in standing up against Jim Crow apartheid and against injustice. He worked hard (along with other unsung heroes too) to make the Montgomery Bus Boycott successful. He would want us to know that he never did this by himself. He had allies and many communities worked together to make sure that there would be the existence of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. His life shows how people working together can achieve monumental changes. He fought for freedom in Montgomery, in Albany, in Birmingham, in St. Augustine, in Selma, in Chicago, in Milwaukee, in Cleveland, in New York City, and in Memphis (back in 1968). Dr. King, back then, was hated by not only the far right crowd, but by moderates too. Dr. King was explicitly clear that he ideologically disagreed with Goldwater and with Reagan back in the 1960's. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. believed in labor rights, in the rights of black people, and in the worth of the human personality. When he was assassinated, the majority of Americans didn't agree with his agenda or goals. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a radical man as well. He opposed the Vietnam War and he wanted economic justice. Dr. King publicly questioned the Vietnam War since 1965, but he took his criticism into the next level by early 1967. His famous 1967 speech entitled, "Beyond Vietnam" gave an articulate, powerful anti-war message that respected the humanity of both Americans and the Vietnamese people. It was a speech that wanted the Vietnam War to end, so human suffering would end and true international cooperation would exist. He endorsed civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance in order for constructive social change to transpire. He organized the Poor People's Campaign as a way to help the poor and make the federal government to send resources to help poor Americans (in the midst of the brutal and unjust Vietnam War). He praised democratic socialism by his own words and he believed in the beauty of Blackness as Black is Beautiful.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s last crusade for justice was in Memphis, Tennessee. He wanted Memphis sanitation workers to have living wages, benefits, and the respect that they deserve. Many black sanitation workers were killed in a machine, because they wanted cover from the rain. This and the massive racism caused people to revolt against the status quo. There were marches, civil disobedience, and other actions against the reactionary Mayor Leob, who refused to compromise an inch initially for the longest time. Men, women, and children (like T.O. Jones, Rev. James Lawson, Cornelia Crenshaw, Adjua Naantaanbuu, etc.) in Memphis stood up and opposed the outright disrespect and disenfranchisement of Memphis sanitation workers. Black workers sacrificed so much and many leaders in Memphis continued to be in the fight. It would be after Dr. King's assassination when a deal was reached in order for the Memphis sanitation workers to have their economic rights honored.
Dr. King said that one of the greatest injustice in the world is how health care is not given to Americans in an adequate fashion. Today, many people want to not only eliminate the ACA, but to end Medicaid expansion in states. Medicaid expansion have saved countless lives. Health care should be expanded not restricted or replaced with a totally free market system. The free market is never infallible. Dr. King's fight for housing rights in Chicago in 1966 changed his life forever. He came into Chicago to oppose racism and housing discrimination, because many black people were forced to live in poorer communities. Not to mention that Dr. King and his allies used experiments to prove that white people were signed for quality housing while black people were refused housing even when they had equal qualifications as white applicants. So, Dr. King wanted housing rights to all people irrespective of color. Mayor Daley opposed Dr. King, because he felt that the city did all it could, which was obviously false. In the Chicago area, racists cursed at him and one person threw a rock at him. These events made Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to say in public that the hate that he experienced in Chicago was much worse than the hatred he experienced in Alabama and Mississippi. The Chicago Movement had a mixed result and it would be after his assassination that LBJ signed the 1968 Civil Rights Act, which dealt with housing issues. Dr. King never gave up. He continued to fight for social change. He spoke out to respect Blackness, black history, and anti-war principles. His sermons dealt with political issues and spiritual matters too. He was a Baptist clergyman who preached at Ebeneezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia.
His wife Coretta Scott King also was an activist too. She was a peace activist for decades, she opposed the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and she opposed the Iraq War. Dr. King was a hero and a man whose wisdom has stood the test of time. He loved his wife and his children. Dr. King traveled the world to spread his message of love, redemption, hope, and justice. He went into Jamaica, London, the Netherlands, Ghana, and all over America. He even came into Hampton Roads (in Norfolk, Virginia) in 1961 and in 1966. As I have gotten older, I have grown in my understanding of the black freedom movement. The same commitment to social justice is in my mind and soul forever. We have crossed many rivers and the battle is not done, but we have strength and we have a sense of purpose to continue to speak up and stand up for our human rights as Brothers and Sisters. That is why we believe in respecting women, men, children, immigrants, and others in the human family. We have that idealism still firmly etched in our consciousness. So, I am inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to do volunteerism, social activism, and the advancement of the principle of justice.