MLK: Where Do We Go from Here?

seeking the highest good

martin-luther-king-jr-photo
Jan 15, 1929- Apr 4, 1968

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “Where Do We Go from Here” sermon at the annual convention of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta, Georgia on August 16, 1967. You can read the sermon in full in the book The Radical King, edited by Cornel West.

West wrote in the book introduction. “The radical King was a democratic socialist who sided with poor and working people in the class struggle taking place in capitalist societies. . . . The response of the radical King to our catastrophic moment can be put in one word: revolution—a revolution in our priorities, a reevaluation of our values, a reinvigoration of our public life, and a fundamental transformation of our way of thinking and living that promotes a transfer of power from oligarchs and plutocrats to everyday people and ordinary citizens. . . . Could it be that we know so little of the radical King because such courage defies our market-driven world?”

MLK’s Concerns

“I’m concerned about a better world. I’m concerned about justice; I’m concerned about brotherhood; I’m concerned about truth. And when one is concerned about that, he can never advocate violence. For through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can’t murder murder. Through violence, you may murder a liar, but you can’t establish truth. Through violence, you may murder a hater, but you can’t murder hate through violence. Darkness cannot put out darkness; only light can do that.

“And I say to you, I have also decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind’s problems. And I’m going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn’t popular to talk about it in some circles today.

“And I’m not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love; I’m talking about a strong, demanding love. For I have seen too much hate. I’ve seen too much hate on the faces of sheriffs in the South. I’ve seen hate on the faces of too many Klansmen and too many White Citizens’ Councilors in the South to want to hate, myself, because every time I see it, I know that it does something to their faces and their personalities, and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear.

“I have decided to love. If you are seeking the highest good, I think you can find it through love. And the beautiful thing is that we aren’t moving wrong when we do it because John was right, God is love. He who hates does not know God, but he who loves has the key that unlocks the door to the meaning of ultimate reality.”

Echoes of 1 Corinthians 13  

“And so I say to you today, my friends, that you may be able to speak with the tongues of men and angels, you may have the eloquence of articulate speech; but if you have not love, it means nothing.

“Yes, you may have the gift of prophecy, you may have the gift of scientific prediction and understand the behavior of molecules, you may break into the storehouse of nature and bring forth many new insights. Yes, you may ascend to the heights of academic achievement so that you have all knowledge, and you may boast of your great institutions of learning and the boundless extent of your degrees; but if you have not love, all of these mean absolutely nothing.

“You may even give your goods to feed the poor, you may bestow great gifts to charity, and you may tower high in philanthropy; but if you have not love, your charity means nothing.

“You may even give your body to be burned and die the death of a martyr, and your spilt blood may be a symbol of honor for generations yet unborn, and thousands may praise you as one of history’s greatest heroes; but if you have not love, your blood was spilt in vain.

“What I’m trying to get you to see this morning is that a man may be self-centered in his self-denial and self-righteous in his self-sacrifice. His generosity may feed his ego, and his piety may feed his pride. So without love, benevolence becomes egotism, and martyrdom becomes spiritual pride.”

In conclusion

“I want to say to you as I move to my conclusion, as we talk about ‘Where do we go from here?’ that we must honestly face the fact that the movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society. There are forty million poor people here, and one day we must ask the question, ‘Why are there forty million poor people in America?’

“And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising a question about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. And I’m simply saying that more and more, we’ve got to begin to ask questions about the whole society.

“We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life’s marketplace. But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. It means that questions must be raised. And you see, my friends, when you deal with this you begin to ask the question, ‘Who owns the oil?’ You begin to ask the question, ‘Who owns the iron ore?’ You begin to ask the question, ‘Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that’s two-thirds water?’ These are words that must be said.”

And much earlier: Give Us The Ballot

Per Alan Singer: “‘On May 17, 1957, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of the speakers at a Prayer Pilgrimage held at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. King demanded that Congress pass legislation ensuring the right of African Americans to vote.

“He condemned Democrats for ‘capitulating to the prejudices and undemocratic practices of the southern Dixiecrats’ and Republicans for ‘capitulating to the blatant hypocrisy of right-wing, reactionary northerners.’ In typical King linguistic poetry, he charged ‘These men so often have a high blood pressure of words and an anemia of deeds.'”

Also, from Jeffrey Cass: The Absurdity of Racists Co-opting MLK’s Legacy. Stop using King’s words to support oppressive systems

Songs of freedom, for MLK

One day when the glory comes
It will be ours, it will be ours

mlkIn honor of MLK’s birthday, here are some songs of freedom. All but the last four were sung by participants of the march from Selma to Montgomery in March 1965. Of course, they were also shared at other rallies and marches. Many of these songs are from the church tradition.

There are a LOT of tunes that could be labeled civil rights songs. Here is a recent compilation.

God Will Take Care Of You – Aretha Franklin. This is from her great Amazing Grace album. The movie about making that album is also quite worthwhile.
We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder – Bernice Johnson Reagon and Vocal Group. She was a member of the wonderful group Sweet Honey in the Rock, which I saw perform decades ago.
Steal Away – Mahalia Jackson and Nat King Cole. Mahalia was Martin’s favorite singer, by all accounts. This was on Nat’s short-lived television show on NBC in the mid-1950s, a pioneering effort in its own right.

Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen – Paul Robeson. Actor and activist, as well as a tremendous singer.
We Shall Not Be Moved – The Freedom Singers. Performed at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963
Oh, Freedom – The Golden Gospel Singers
If You Miss Me In The Back Of The Bus  – Kim and Reggie Harris, who I saw sing in person twice some years back

Keep Your Eyes On The Prize  · Robert Parris Moses
Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around – The Roots. From the soundtrack to the film Soundtrack For a Revolution (2012)
We Shall Overcome  – Joan Baez. She performed at the march on Washington and elsewhere. This performance was in London in 1965

Mavis

I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free – Nina Simone. An anthem.
When Will We Be Paid – Staple Singers
99 and 1/2 (Won’t Do) – Mavis Staples. I most highly recommend the album We’ll Never Turn Back.
Glory – Common and John Legend from the 2014 movie Selma. This was performed by the youth of our church a few years back.

We Don’t Need Another Martin

You

Last year, during Black History Month at my church, there was an interesting question. Was Bryan Stevenson the new Martin Luther King Jr? I don’t know what my response was, but I’m sure it was inadequate. We don’t need another Martin.

We don’t because, while Martin was a powerful speaker and charismatic leader, he did not operate alone. Thousands, nay millions, worked on the struggle for racial equality in the 1950s and ’60s. And in case you hadn’t noticed, the struggle continues.

So we need an actual Bryan Stevenson, who knows what it means to be present when in the midst of despair. And we require a Lonnie Bunch, who had the vision and perseverance to shepherd the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture. And we have need of a  Stacey Abrams, who is doing the good work of the late John Lewis in getting more black people registered to vote.

But we also must call for those folks who speak out when that racist joke spreads throughout the office. And the people who recognize systemic injustice and work, by education and sharing, towards a more equitable country. And in particular, those who don’t know but are willing to learn. The people who lift up the unknown black artists and musicians and writers are very important.

Boy, do we need people who recognize that the conversation about reparations shouldn’t just reflect the period of enslavement. The economic disparity from Jim Crow, lynchings, and white pogroms was great. The crippling loss of generational wealth from black people being excluded from the housing and education opportunities of the GI Bill arguably may be worse.

Nope

We don’t need another Martin. News flash: Martin is dead, and he ain’t coming back. Moreover, the problems of 2021 are not the issues of 1968. OK, some of them are. We’re still fighting against voter disenfranchisement, e.g. But we require the people of today, with 21st-century insight and technology.

Maybe we ALL can be, in our own way, another Martin.

Questions about God, and coincidence

Does God DO that?

My new friend Carla, who I’ve only known for a half-century starts off this round of  Ask Roger Anything:

God
The star in the center, as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope, is known as V1331 Cyg and is located in the dark cloud LDN 981.

If you had the chance to ask three different people (living or dead, famous or not) ONE question… who and what would you ask?

The one requirement for this exercise, I suppose, is that they would have to answer honestly. What would I ask? What is your sense of how God manifests God’s self if, in fact, God does that? Or maybe Does knowing God just take practice?

I’d ask Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1967. I’m thinking of his disappointing experiences in his previous couple of years might have changed his world view of God’s plan.

I’d ask Thomas Jefferson c. 1820, long after he had left the presidency. As this article explains, his “relationship with Christianity was complicated.” So where was it near the end of his life?

I’d ask Donald Trump in 2020. But I’d wonder if he’d understand what I was trying to get at. Maybe I’d need some clarifying questions. Does he think God favors the rich? Does he believe that God supported him in herding demonstrators so he could hold up a Bible in front of a church? And if so, what was God saying to him?

Does he believe God wanted him to be reelected? Does he actually read the Bible? And if so, what parts resonate with him?

He was asked this last question around 2017, and he gave the non-answer “Oh, all of it.” Anyone who has ACTUALLY read the Bible will admit that there are some parts of Scripture with which they are uncomfortable.

What a coincidence

Uthaclena, being their usual mystical self, asks:

Isn’t “coincidence” an ALTERNATIVE Fact??

So, what do we know here? “A coincidence is a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances that have no apparent causal connection with one another.” So a coincidence is a fact.

“The perception of remarkable coincidences may lead to supernatural, occult, or paranormal claims.” So the perceptions of coincidences may be alternative facts.

A Tribute to Sister Rosa Parks

New exhibit at the Library of Congress

Rosa ParksI’m talking a wild guess you might have heard about Rosa Parks, who was born February 4, 1913 in Tuskegee, AL and died October 24, 2005 in Detroit, MI.

The Wikipedia says, “Rosa Louise McCauley Parks was an American activist in the civil rights movement best known for her pivotal role in the Montgomery bus boycott. The United States Congress has called her ‘the first lady of civil rights’ and ‘the mother of the freedom movement.'”

But I saw a story this past December about a NEW Rosa Parks exhibit at the Library of Congress. It contains a treasure trove of her letters. Some are written on backs on food labels. I hope to see it; the exhibit runs through September 2020. At about the same time, a new Rosa Parks statue was unveiled in Montgomery, AL.

The King Institute website has a lot of important information about her. Among the featured documents that have been chosen from the King Papers collection:

Arrest Report for Claudette Colvin. City of Montgomery Police Department. March 02, 1955. Who is she? She was a precursor to Rosa, as I noted a decade ago. Fred Gray, Alabama civil rights attorney said, “Claudette gave all of us moral courage. If she had not done what she did, I am not sure that we would have been able to mount the support for Mrs. Parks.”

Arrest Record For Rosa Parks. City of Montgomery Police Department. December 01, 1955.

Announcement, Another Negro Woman has been Arrested — Don’t Ride the Bus. Robinson, Jo Ann Gibson (Women’s Political Council (WPC)), December 02, 1955. “Don’t Ride the Bus”. Robinson, Jo Ann Gibson (Women’s Political Council (WPC)), December 02, 1955.

“Resolution” – Montgomery Improvement Association. December 08, 1955.

Music

There’s an album that came out some years ago, with snippets of dialogue from Rosa Parks between music tracks. This is my favorite song: Help Us Lord – The Chosen.

Here’s a track from the mighty Neville Brothers, Sister Rosa.

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