Monday, January 19, 2009

Dr. King's Triplets of Racism, Materialism and Militarism

My way of commemorating Dr. King's birthday is to use my "day off" to read some of his writings. When I was a public school teacher at Tilson Elementary in Decatur, Georgia, I was chagrined to recognize that I, a so-called "well-educated" white woman, could not recall any of Dr. King's oratory beyond the occasional "I Have a Dream" quip. At the same time, my 5th grade "at risk" African-American students could recite speeches in their entirety. That was the beginning of my understanding of how education in our country perpetuates patterns of poverty and disenfranchisement. Wouldn't a person of privilege such as myself need an understanding of Dr. King's vision and analysis as much minority students working to take their rightful place in a more just society? But somehow I hadn't been taught from the texts of Dr. King. Although my own elementary school was just a few miles away in Tucker, GA, my education was vastly different in terms of priorities. There are many reasons for that, but if I took anything away from my collegiate education, it was the call of life-long learning. Turning the pages of Dr. King's writings in adulthood is one way I try to keep educating myself.

Today on Democracy Now I was treated to audio excerpts from Dr. King's "Beyond Vietnam" speech at the Riverside Church in 1967. Listening I realized anew that although the body of Dr. King's work is important in its entirety, there is no denying the influence of his "sound bites." In this speech Dr. King invites Americans to a "radical revolution of values" that overturns a world in which profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people. Fair Traders often speak about putting "people before profit." I suspect we have Dr. King to thank for that turn of phrase and for the moral analysis behind it. And when I say that Fair Trade is an alternative that allows us to dismantle the systems that create poverty, I am recalling Dr. King's point that "True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar;" It is working to restructure the system that caused the begging in the first place. While in 2009 we are still faced with the damage that comes from the triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism identified by Dr. King, his wisdom teaches we can overcome them with charity, justice, and hope.

Yes, there is that word "hope" on the eve of Barack Obama's inauguration. There are many causes for hope just as there are many reasons for "change." What I think that Dr. King reminds us is that we are each called in our own way to be a part of the solution. Doing so requires sacrifice, patience, and attention. But we have come so far in one generation's time! I believe that realizing his dream is possible, and I offer the words up for my education and your inspiration:

"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.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'"

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2:29 AM

    Great post, Jackie. Thanks for sharing it.