A Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Happy BirthdayThere are many things that as leaders we have to deal with today. It is a fact that we are lacking visionary leadership and the lack of civility is alive. Racism is still a burden and America’s shame. We must face the hard fact that many Americans would like to have a nation which is a democracy for all Americans but simultaneously enjoy the white privilege over other Americans. We must face the fact that we still have much to do in the area of race relations.
Please Note: Content is Property of Harvey Alston at www.harveyalston.com
and used with his permission - Added January 17, 2020
Please Note: Content is Property of Harvey Alston at www.harveyalston.com
and used with his permission - Added January 17, 2020
There has been some progress, and probably the greatest area of this progress has been the breakdown of legalized segregation and gerrymandering. Segregation and hate groups are alive and the only thing uncertain about it now is how costly it would be to make integration and equality work. There has been progress but we must not allow this pacifier to cause us to engage in superficial dangerous optimistic celebrations. The plant of equality has grown only a bud and not yet a flower and the weeds of hate have been profusely abundant. There is no area of our country that can boast of equality. Equality is giving everyone a pair of shoes. Equity is giving everyone a pair of shoes that fits their feet. Every city has confronted a serious problem. We are now in a transitional period. We are moving into a new phase of the life long struggle. For many years, the struggle was basically a struggle to end legalized segregation. In a sense it was a struggle for decency. It was a struggle to get rid of all of the humiliation and the syndrome of depravation surrounding the system of legalized segregation.
We should not forget the days of Montgomery, when fifty thousand African Americans decided that it was ultimately more honorable to walk the streets in dignity than to accept segregation in humiliation. We should not forget the 1960 sit-in movement, when by the thousands students decided to sit in at lunch counters, protesting humiliation and segregation. We should not forget the Freedom Rides of 1961, and the Birmingham Movement of 1963, a movement which literally subpoenaed the conscience of a large segment of the nation to appear before the judgement seat of morality on the whole question of civil rights. We should not forget Selma, when by the thousands they marched from that city to Montgomery to dramatize the fact that African Americans did not have the right to vote. Those were the days of the civil rights movement. But that period is now only in the history books. We have moved into a new phase and because we have moved into this new phase, some people feel that the old civil rights movement is dead.
The new phase is a struggle for genuine equality. It is not merely a struggle for decency; it is not merely a struggle to get rid of the brutality. It is now a struggle for genuine equality for all on all levels, and this will be a much more difficult struggle. When Colin Kaepernick decided to take a knee during the National Anthem, he was in reality standing up for the best in the American dream and carrying the whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in the formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. He understands that the only time thousands are cheering for a black man is when he in in the stadium or ring. You see, the gains in the first period, or the first era of struggle, were obtained from the power structure at basement bargain rates; it didn’t cost the nation anything to integrate lunch counters. It didn’t cost the nation anything to integrate hotels and motels. It didn’t cost the nation a penny to guarantee the right to vote. Now we are in a period where it will cost the nation billions of dollars to get rid of poverty, to get rid of poor housing, to make quality integrated education a reality, to make equal pay for all genders and to guarantee equal rights to all of our citizens.
This is where we are now. Now we’re going to lose more friends in this period. The allies who were with us will not all stay with us during this period. We’ve got to understand what is happening. Now they often call this the white backlash. It’s just a new name for an old phenomenon. The fact is that there has never been any single, solid, determined commitment on the part of the vast majority of Americans to grant genuine equality for anyone other than themselves. There has always been ambivalence. In 1863 the African Americans were granted freedom from physical slavery through the Emancipation Proclamation. But they were not given land to make that freedom meaningful. At the same time, our government was giving away millions of acres of land in the Midwest and the West, which meant that the nation was willing to create a welfare state for its peasants from Europe with an economic floor, while refusing to do it for its blacks from Africa who were put in slavery for hundreds of years. Frederick Douglass said that “emancipation for the Negro was freedom to hunger, freedom to the winds and rains of heaven, freedom without roofs to cover their heads. It was freedom without bread to eat, without land to cultivate. It was freedom and famine at the same time. It is a miracle that the Negro has survived”.
In 1875 the nation passed a civil rights bill, and refused to enforce it. In 1964, the nation passed a weaker civil rights bill and even to this day has failed to enforce it in all of its dimensions. In 1954 the Supreme Court rendered a decision outlawing segregation in the public schools. And even to this day less than five per cent of African American students in our cities are attending integrated schools. We haven’t even made one per cent progress. If it continues at this rate, it will take another three hundred years to fully integrate the schools of our nation. We’ve never made any gain in civil rights without constant persistent legal pressure. Don’t let anybody make you feel that the problem will work itself out.
Poverty is like a monstrous octopus it spreads its nagging prehensile tentacles into cities and neighborhoods. Millions of Americans are poverty stricken, unable to gain the basic necessities of life. We have allowed them to become invisible because our society’s so affluent that we don’t see the poor. We have built inner city highway walls under the pretense of sound barriers, but in reality they were built to hide the inner city housing and projects from view of the rich who drive in from the suburbs. Among the poor are Mexican Americans, Native Americans, and Puerto Ricans, South Americans and Appalachian whites. The vast majority are African Americans in proportion to their size in the population. There is nothing new about poverty. It’s been with us for years and centuries. What is new at this point is that we now have the resources, we now have the skills, and we have the techniques to get rid of poverty but the question is whether we want to pay for it.
The great problems and the great challenges facing us today are to get rid of drugs. We have left ourselves as a nation morally and politically isolated in the world. We have greatly strengthened the forces of reaction in America, and excited gun violence and hatred among our own people. We have diverted attention from human rights during a period of guns and home grown radical terrorist. When a nation becomes obsessed with drugs and the guns of war, social programs inevitably suffer. People have become insensitive to pain and the agony in their own midst. We have flooded our society with opioids thus creating the zombies of overdosed people.
It is absurd to talk about solving racism, poverty, guns and drugs without being concerned about the survival of a world in which we live. This earth, the big ball of dirt we live on, is having great difficulties in supporting the lives we have created. The environmentalists know we can only save the world when there is nothing left to fight over. How are we going to build a wall when we are creating climate refugees?
We must know where our politicians stand on these positions; cowards ask the question “Is it safe?” Elected Officials asks the question “Is it politically Correct?” A self-Centered person asks the question “Is it popular?” But Leadership asks the question “Is it right?” And there’re times when you must take a stand that is neither safe nor political nor popular, but you must do it because it is right. “We were the dreamers of a dream that dark yesterdays of man’s inhumanity to man would soon be transformed into bright tomorrows of justice” (MLK).
Now, it is hard to escape that disillusionment of betrayal. Our hopes have been blasted and our dreams have been shattered. The promise of a Great Society was shipwrecked. The poor are still perishing, “What happens to a dream deferred”? It leads to bewildering frustration, corroding bitterness and self-destruction. In this new world of social media we can transform the identity of a good person into a demon, and make a demonic person a saint. We can make an innocent person guilty of a crime and a criminal virtuous. We can fault the oppressed for their standards of life and at the same time love the oppressors. We can control the view and perspective of the down trodden into believing they are superior to others who are trapped in the same pigpen. We have made it an honor to be the first African American in any field of endeavor and at the same time diminishing that fact that we had been forced to be arrested in our development.
For 30 years, I have lectured and urged people to “Be the Best”. Their hopes had soared and now I feel I am unable to deliver on America’s promises. I urged them to have faith in people who have too often proved to be unfaithful. I have spoken in the jails and penitentiaries with the incarcerated inmates. I have watched the dreams of liberation that they had so readily accepted turn into a frustrating nightmare. This situation is all the more ominous in view of the rising expectations of people the world over. The deep rumblings that we see today, the rumblings of discontent, is the thunder of disinherited masses rising from dungeons of oppression. All over the world like a fever, the quest for equality is spreading in the widest liberation movements in history. The great masses of people are determined to end the exploitation of their races, sexes and lands. And in one majestic chorus they all are singing the songs of “Rise Up”. Be careful when you awaken those who have been dead too long.
We are on a collision course. The people cry for out for justice and the congress attempts to enact legislation. Millions, yes billions, are appropriated for guns of mass murder; but the most meager pittance for aid for the development of peace is crushed in the surge of reaction. Underemployment is at a major depression level in the cities, but the response is building a wall. The modest proposals for model cities pitiful as they were to begin get caught in the maze of congressional inaction and greed.
We have elected a Nero as patron saint who is bent on fiddling and golfing while our earth burns. Even when the people persist and in the face of great obstacles, develop indigenous leadership and self-help approaches to their problems, and finally tread the forest of bureaucracy to obtain existing government funds, the corrupt political order seeks to crush even this beginning of hope.
Yes the hour is dark, evil has come fourth in the guise of “Make America Great Again”. It is a time of double talk when men in high places have a high blood pressure of deceptive rhetoric and an anemia of concrete performance. We cry out against National Health Care but generously approve oil depletion in our national parks and tax cuts to make the rich, richer. We are playing musical chairs with people on the Titanic as we watch the boat sink.
The crowning achievement in hypocrisy must go to those Republicans and Democrats of the Midwest and West who were given free land by our government when they came here as immigrants from Europe. They were given free education through the land grant colleges; they were provided with agricultural agents to keep them abreast of forming trends; they were granted low interest loans to aid in the mechanization of their farms, and now that they have succeeded in becoming successful, they are paid not to farm. These are the same people that now say to people – whose ancestors were enslaved and brought to this country in chains and who were emancipated in 1863 without being given land to cultivate or bread to eat – that they must pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.
Ever since the birth of our nation, America has had a Schizophrenic personality on the question of race, she has been torn between love and hate. She proudly professes the great principles of democracy in which she madly practices the antithesis of democracy. This tragic duality has produced a strange indecisiveness and ambivalence toward all people of color, causing America to take a step backwards simultaneously with every step forward on the question of Racial Justice; to be at once attracted to the African Americans and repelled by him, to love and to hate him.
There has never been a solid, unified, and determined thrust to make justice for all a reality. The step backwards has a new name today; it is called the white backlash. But the white backlash is nothing new. It is the surfacing of old prejudices, hostilities, and ambivalence that has always been there. The white backlash of today is rooted in the same white entitlement problem that has characterized America ever since the black man landed in chains on the shores of this nation.
This does not imply that all Americans are racist, far from it. Many people have, through a deep moral compulsion fought long and hard for racial justice. Nor does it mean that America has made no progress in her attempt to cure the body politic of the disease of racism or that the dogma of racism has not been considerably modified in recent years. However for the good of America, it is necessary to refute the idea that the dominant ideology in our country, even today, is freedom and equality while racism is just an occasional departure from the norm on the part of a few bigoted extremists. Racism can well be that corrosive evil that will bring down the curtain on our civilization. Twenty-six civilizations have risen upon the face of the Earth; almost all of them have descended into the junk heap of destruction. The decline and fall of these civilizations was not caused by external invasion but by internal decay. They failed to respond creatively to the challenges impingent upon them. If America does not respond creatively to the challenge to banish racism, some future historian will have to say, that a great civilization died because it lacked the soul and commitment to make justice a reality for all.
Technology is great but it is killing us at the same time. We call the technology devices labor saving machinery, yet we are forever busy on them. With the multiplying of task of the technology we grow increasingly fatigued, anxious, nervous, dissatisfied. Whatever technology we have, we want the latest and greatest, and wherever we are, we want to go somewhere else. Our technology devices are neither time saving nor soul saving. They are so many sharp spurs which urge us on to invent more technology and to do more business. We cannot escape the indictment. This does not mean that we must turn back the clock of our scientific progress. No one can overlook the wonders that science has wrought for our lives. The automobile will not abdicate in favor of the horse and buggy or the high speed trains in favor of the stage coach or the self-driven combine in favor of the hand plow or the Alexa and Goggle in favor of ignorance and superstition. But our moral lag must be redeemed; when technological power outruns moral power, we end up with guided nuclear missiles and misguided leadership. When we foolishly maximize the minimum communications of life and minimize the maximum, we sign the warrant for our own day of doom. It is this moral lag in our tech thing-oriented society that blinds us to the human reality around us and encourages us in the greed and exploitation which creates the sector of poverty in the midst of wealth.
I still hear the ringing voice of parents that diluted us into believing the myth that Capitalism grew and prospered out of the work ethic of hard work and sacrifice; the fact is that Capitalism was built on the exploitation and suffering of slaves and continues to thrive on the exploitation of the poor both here and abroad. If the poor do not participate in the free flow of wealth within our economy, they will forever be poor, giving their energies, their talents, and their limited funds to the conspicuous consumer market, still selling their land and their souls for those things that glitter and sparkle, but reaping few benefits and services in return. The way to end poverty is to end the exploitation of the poor; ensure them a fair share of the government services and the nation’s resources.
It is barbarous to condemn people desiring work rather than living on soul-sapping inactivity and poverty. The tragedy is that a materialistic culture does not possess the leadership skill necessary to end poverty. Victor Hugo could have been thinking of our America when he wrote, “there’s always more misery among the lower classes than there is humanity in the higher classes.”
The time has come for America to face the inevitable choice between materialism and humanism. We must devote at least as much to our children’s education and the health of the poor as we do to the care of our automobiles and the building of beautiful, impressive hotels and golf course resorts. We must also realize that the problems of racial injustice and economic injustice cannot be solved without a radical redistribution of political and economic power. We must further recognize that low income housing is a domestic colony. Poor people must develop programs that will aid in the transfer of power and wealth into the hands of residence of the neighborhood so that they may in reality control their own destinies. This is the meaning of New Politics. People of good will in the larger community must support the poor in this effort.
Our national sickness is the disease of drug abuse. Nothing more clearly demonstrates our nation’s abuse of the power of guns and drugs than our tragedies. This has played havoc with the destiny of the entire world. It has torn up communities, it has seriously impaired the nation, it has exacerbated the hatred between the have and have nots and worst still between races. It has frustrated our development at home, telling our own citizens that we place insatiable demands above their critical needs. It has greatly contributed to the forces of reaction in America and strained the military industrial complex. It has practically destroyed our youth and left thousands of Americans exposed to the risk of overdose. We are arrogant in professing to be concerned about the foreign nations while not setting our own house in order.
Many of our Senators and Congressmen vote joyously to appropriate billions of dollars for the Wars and many of these same Senators and Congressmen vote loudly against a Fair Housing Bill to make it possible to purchase a decent home. We arm young soldiers all over the world to kill on foreign battlefields, but offer little health care and benefits for their families and relatives in our own country. The inexorable decay of our urban centers has flared into terrifying domestic conflict as the pursuit of foreign war absolves our wealth and energy. Poor housing and poverty scar our cities as our military might destroy cities in a far-off land to support the intervention in domestic conflict. The President who cherishes consensus for peace has intensified the war. He has brought taunting in tweets in seconds. We are offered a tax and tariffs for war instead of a plan for peace. Leadership of reason should no longer debate, the merits of war or means of financing war. They should end the wars and restore sanity and humanity to American policy. The American people must have an opportunity to vote out of office those who cannot detach themselves from arrogant up-isms.
So I am writing today because I believe, hope, and pray that something new might emerge in the political life of this nation which will produce a new leadership, new structures, and new institutions, and a new life. I am convinced that this new leadership will not emerge until our nation undergoes a radical revolution of values. A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies.
True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a homeless beggar, it understands that an edifice which produces beggars, needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation it will look at thousands of working people displaced from their jobs with reduced incomes as a result of technology while the profits of the employers increase and say, “This is not right.” It will look across the ocean and see individual Capitalists investing huge sums of money in Asia and Africa only to take the diamonds, gold and oil out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries and say, “This is not right.” It will look at the walls we build for the people of Latin America and say, this is not right. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war; this way of settling differences is not right. This business of hurting humans with building a wall, of filling our nation’s home with opioids, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples’ normal humanity, of sending men home from dark and bloodied battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love.
Any nation that continues year after year, to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplifting, is approaching the end of its time. It is a sin to blame poor people for the destruction of our neighborhoods while America destroys poor countries. So what we must all see is that these are revolutionary times. All over the globe, people are revolting against old systems of exploitation and out of the wombs of a frail world new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot of the Earth are rising up as never before. The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. We must support these revolutions. It is a sad fact that because of comfort, complacency, our proneness to adjust to injustice, the nations that initiated leadership of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries. Lies don’t become the truth, wrongs don’t become right and evil doesn’t become good, just because it’s has been accepted by others.
Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world, declaring eternal opposition to poverty, racism, drugs and guns. With this powerful commitment, we shall boldly go where we have not gone before and challenge the status quo and unjust morals. Do it - because it is right.