Thursday, April 4, 2013

DC Emancipation Day, and Martin Luther King

 April is an very important month for people concerned with human rights, and especially with the long hard fight to achieve justice and equality for black people in the United States.  April 16, 1863 is the day President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation to free the slaves in Washington, DC.  April 4, 1968 was the day our great civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.  There will be a number of Emancipation Day related events which can be seen in the link below.

Over 100 years after President Lincoln's freed slaves in DC, and subsequently throughout the United States, there were/are still many inequities and injustices plaguing people people of color.  The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. made many creative and active efforts to bring these injustices to the awareness of our country and paid the ultimate price for his courage.

A notably effective effort was a great march on Washington on Augues 28, 1963, that ultimately attracted 250,000 people.  My late husband and I were thrilled to be able to take part in this historic event. It was a multi-ethnic event and was the largest protest gathering in DC history.

Originally it had been planned to use the march to dramatize the terrible conditions for blacks in the South.  It would be an opportunity to bring organizers' concerns and grievances to politicians in the nation's capital. Organizers wanted to denounce the federal government because it had failed to safeguard the civil rights and physical safety of civil rights workers and blacks. Eventually it was agreed to have a less militant event, and some groups dropped out in disappointment..
Specific demands of the march were: an end to racial segregation in public schools; meaningful civil rights legislation, including a law prohibiting racial discrimination in employment; protection of civil rights workers from police brutality; a $2 minimum wage for all workers; and self-government for Washington, D.C., then governed by congressional committee.  Unfortunately, DC still does not have Statehood or full self-government, although a vote on April 23, 2013 for Budget Autonomy will be a step in the right direction. 
Most remembered from this event was Martin Luther King's dramatic "I have a dream" speech.  Fifty years later I can still remember the sensation of chills running down my spine while hearing his stirring speech.  Below is a portion of that oration.

"I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today."

Below is a summary of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life prepared by one of our faithful DC Statehood Green Party members.  While I have your attention, please remember that April 23, 2013 is a Special Election to fill the vacant At Large city Council seat.  Please check out DCSGP candidate Perry Redd's campaign site:  If you like what you see please vote, tell your friends to vote, and consider clicking on the DONATE page or volunteering some time and effort.  Perry is the one candidate in the race who will especially focus on the needs of our poorer citizens if he becomes the Council member.

The life of Martin Luther King Jr. 
Adapted by Michelle Tingling-Clemmons from a Seattle Times article

     Any number of historic moments in the civil rights struggle have been used to identify Martin Luther King, Jr. — prime mover of the Montgomery bus boycott, keynote speaker at the March on Washington, youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate. But in retrospect, single events are less important than the fact that King, and his policy of nonviolent protest, was the dominant force in the civil rights movement during its decade of greatest achievement, from 1957 to 1968.
     King was born Michael Luther King in Atlanta on Jan. 15, 1929 — one of the three children of Martin Luther King Sr., pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, and Alberta (Williams) King, a former schoolteacher. (He was renamed "Martin" when he was about 6 years old.)
     After going to local grammar and high schools, King enrolled in Morehouse College in Atlanta in 1944. He wasn't planning to enter the ministry, but then he met Dr. Benjamin Mays, a scholar whose manner and bearing convinced him that a religious career could be intellectually satisfying as well. After receiving his bachelor's degree in 1948, King attended Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pa., winning the Plafker Award as the outstanding student of the graduating class, and the J. Lewis Crozer Fellowship as well. King completed the coursework for his doctorate in 1953, and was granted the degree two years later upon completion of his dissertation.
     Married by then, King returned South to become pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala. Here, he made his first mark on the civil-rights movement, by mobilizing the black community during a 382-day boycott of the city's bus lines. King overcame arrest and other violent harassment, including the bombing of his home. Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court declared bus segregation unconstitutional.
     A national hero and a civil-rights figure of growing importance, King summoned together a number of black leaders in 1957 and laid the groundwork for the organization now known as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). King was elected its president, and he soon began helping other communities organize their own protests against discrimination.
     After finishing his first book and making a trip to India, King returned to the United States in 1960 to become co-pastor, with his father, of Ebenezer Baptist Church.
     Three years later, King's nonviolent tactics were put to their most severe test in Birmingham, during a mass protest for fair hiring practices and the desegregation of department-store facilities. Police brutality used against the marchers dramatized the plight of blacks to the nation at large, with enormous impact. King was arrested, but his voice was not silenced: He wrote "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" to refute his critics.
     Later that year King was a principal speaker at the historic March on Washington, where he delivered one of the most passionate addresses of his career. Time magazine designated him as its Person of the Year for 1963. A few months later he was named recipient of the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize. When he returned from Norway, where he had gone to accept the award, King took on new challenges. In Selma, Ala., he led a voter-registration campaign that ended in the Selma-to-Montgomery Freedom March. King next brought his crusade to Chicago, where he launched programs to rehabilitate the slums and provide housing.
     In the North, however, King soon discovered that young and angry blacks cared little for his preaching and even less for his pleas for peaceful protest. Their disenchantment was one of the reasons he rallied behind a new cause: the war in Vietnam.
     Although he was trying to create a new coalition based on equal support for peace and civil rights, it caused an immediate rift. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) saw King's shift of emphasis as "a serious tactical mistake" the Urban League warned that the "limited resources" of the civil-rights movement would be spread too thin.
     But from the vantage point of history, King's timing was superb. Students, professors, intellectuals, clergymen and reformers rushed into the movement. Then, King turned his attention to the domestic issue that he felt was directly related to the Vietnam struggle: poverty. He called for a guaranteed family income, he threatened national boycotts, and he spoke of disrupting entire cities by nonviolent "camp-ins." With this in mind, he began to plan a massive march of the poor on Washington, D.C., envisioning a demonstration of such intensity and size that Congress would have to recognize and deal with the huge number of desperate and downtrodden Americans.
     King interrupted these plans to lend his support to the Memphis sanitation men's strike. He wanted to discourage violence, and he wanted to focus national attention on the plight of the poor, unorganized workers of the city. The men were bargaining for basic union representation and long-overdue raises.
     But he never got back to his poverty plans. Unbeknownst to King and his allies, he had already been targeted for murder by the FBI for his views and work (How the Government Killed Martin Luther King, Jr. by Carl Gibson, Reader Supported News, April 3, 2013).
     Death came for King on April 4, 1968, on the balcony of the black-owned Lorraine Hotel just off Beale Street. While standing outside with Jesse Jackson and Ralph Abernathy, King was shot in the neck by a rifle bullet. His death caused a wave of violence in major cities across the country.
     However, King's legacy has lived on. In 1969, his widow, Coretta Scott King, organized the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change. Today it stands next to his beloved Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. His birthday, Jan. 15, is a national holiday, celebrated each year with educational programs, artistic displays, and concerts throughout the United States. The Lorraine Hotel where he was shot is now the National Civil Rights Museum.

— Based on The African American Almanac, 7th ed., Gale, 1997.

No comments:

Post a Comment