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CopyrightŠ 2019 National Civil Rights Museum. All rights reserved. Contributions by individual contributors to Voices section are published to the copyright rights of each individual author. First produced in 2019 by Theorem3 Advisors In association with the National Civil Rights Museum 450 Mulberry Street Memphis TN 38103 Published in conjunction with the MLK50 Commemoration Where Do We Go from Here?, April 4, 2017–April 4, 2018 The National Civil Rights Museum is responsible for all clearance and copyright. No part of the contents of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise, without the written permission of the National Civil Rights Museum. ISBN 978-1-7339832-0-4 ISBN 978-1-7339832-0-4


9 781733 983204

How Far Have We Come? D R . K I N G ’ S L E G AC Y A N D T H E 2 1 S T C E N T U RY

SPONSORS MLK50 DAY 2 SYMPOSIUM ORGANIZED BY THE NATIONAL CIVIL RIGHTS MUSEUM AT THE LORRAINE MOTEL Walmart/Sam’s Club Hyde Family Foundation FedEx First Tennessee Foundation The Kresge Foundation BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee BNSF MLK50 YEARLONG City of Memphis

Methodist LeBonheur Health Care

Surdna Foundation

Baptist Memorial Healthcare


Community Foundation of Greater Memphis

Memphis Travel

R. H. Boyd Publishing Corp.



Ford Foundation

Self Tucker Architects

State of Tennessee

The Turley Foundation

Remembering George Riley

New Sardis Baptist Church


Chris Woods Construction

CME Church

Delta Sigma Theta

Juice Plus

Idlewild Presbyterian Church

Mr. & Mrs. Steven Salky 4


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS TO DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. Our inspiration in answering the question he posed over 50 years ago, Where Do We Go from Here? TO A L L T H E M L K 5 0 PA R T I C I PA N T S, H E R E I N QU OT E D A N D SUMMARIZED Moderator, panelists, keynote speaker and scholars TO ALL THE MLK50 AUDIENCE MEMBERS In-person and via live stream far and wide TO A L L G E N E RO U S S P O N S O R S P R E V I O U S LY N A M E D TO THE FOLLOWING TEAM MEMBERS WRITERS​​ Terri Lee Freeman Alexandra Patron DESIGN​​ Karen Lemcke Ed Williams PUBLISHER​ Theorem3 Advisors, Sumya Ojakli

EDITORS​​ Terri Lee Freeman ​​Sumya Ojakli Beverly Sakauye ​​Faith Morris ​​Noelle Trent ​​Connie Dyson EDITORIAL ASSISTANT Kyle Grasing

SPECIAL THANKS The MLK50 yearlong commemoration was a monumental and gratifying team effort — the National Civil Rights Museum’s staff, Board of Directors, volunteers, organizational partners and supporters made our dream of a multi-phased, multi-community, multi-media commemoration a reality. 5



A LETTER FROM OUR CEO Where Do We Go from Here? was the theme for the National Civil Rights Museum’s 50th commemoration of Dr. King’s legacy. It was important to bring that theme to life. We did so over the course of a year, but April 2–4, 2018 represented the core of the commemorative activities. On April 2 and 3, we hosted a symposium along with the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law. This compendium catalogues the thought leaders’ perspectives as represented on April 3. Labor, economic equity and the promise of education are the topics covered in this narrative. As you read this document, if you were present with us in 2018, we hope it will bring to mind the energy that was swirling around these issues, and encourage you to find your place in how we move the legacy forward. If you were not with us, we hope you will get a sense of how invested our panelists were in conveying the important work that has been accomplished and the work that is yet to be done. And likewise, we hope you will see yourself, and the role you can play, as you read this document. The issues facing our communities are not simple, and will not be solved overnight, but with steady attention and focused effort, we can be what Dr. King so urgently encouraged us to be. Yes, it is that fierce urgency of now that calls each of us to contribute to completing the work begun by those heroes and sheroes of the mid-20th century civil rights movement. More than a half-century after Dr. King’s tragic death, there is still much to be accomplished. Will you answer the call?




WHAT HAVE WE SET OUT TO DO? The National Civil Rights Museum marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with a program honoring him. The Museum serves as a foundation and home of Dr. King’s work, which profoundly impacted civil rights and equality both yesterday and today. In revisiting the work of a great economist, organizer and peacemaker we enlisted historians, educators and scholars to join us in discussing the life and work of Dr. King. Referencing Dr. King’s last book Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? we invited panels of thought leaders to discuss and debate the main themes of the book, the overall question of change in communities and the open-ended conversation of the work done and the work that remains. Our purpose in organizing these discussions was to bring great thinkers together and ask hard questions of equality and civil rights spanning 50 years. By inviting thought leaders and experts, our goal was to revisit 1968, mark the progress we’ve made­and note the many ways in which we failed to progress. The topics we discussed are eerily similar to the challenges we face today. These programs, and others like them, are necessary to have, if we expect measurable change.


In the coming chapters and pages, we will focus on three groups that were assembled to discuss labor and wages, poverty and economic equality and the prized promise of education. Our select panelists and moderator, along with Terri Lee Freeman, CEO of the National Civil Rights Museum and Taylor Branch, who has meticulously studied Dr. King’s life and work, have curated a conversation that serves as a springboard to provoke thought and contemplation. By summarizing the topics and highlighting the debate, we hope to provide food for thought and inspiration. This book is intended to be both a blueprint and a broad reference of encouragement, for everyone to be their own version of Dr. King. If each one of us, upon reading this, is moved to take a singular action, then we will have accomplished what we set out to do. A little from many is more democratic, and often more successful, than a lot from a few. Terri Lee Freeman’s vision of a public square is precisely what we endeavored to recreate, and applying Dr. King’s message to today’s contemporary civic issues is the very essence of the three-panel discussion. In assembling this panel for the two-day commemoration of the assassination of Dr. King, Terri enlisted Taylor Branch, one of the great historians of the Civil Rights Era. Mr. Branch is a Pulitzer Prize-winning documentarian, historian and narrator of Dr. King’s life and legacy. Taylor Branch’s storytelling ability brings to life the era of racism and the fascinating man, who was both the inception and embodiment of eradicating racism and fighting for equality. In conclusion, we hope you will walk away from reading this having garnered some wisdom and been enriched by important discussions, and we hope that you will contemplate the civil rights era, Dr. King and the crosshairs that we stand at today.



THE MLK50 SYMPOSIUM • APRIL 3, 2018 MEMPHIS, TN “MEMPHIS 50 YEARS LATER, MARCHING FORWARD” PROLOGUE The title of Dr. King’s last book Where Do We Go from Here? lays out the foundation for this entire program. In 1968, Memphis was a hub for civil rights and the fight for equality, and it was the sanitation workers’ strike that showcased the nexus of both labor and poverty, which were the issues that embodied Dr. King’s work. That being said, a major objective of Dr. King’s work was to ensure that if you provide a service through your labor, you would not be living in poverty. During the course of this program, we will examine the promise of education and discuss Dr. King’s belief that education was the great equalizer. We will discuss the state of civil rights since the assassination of Dr. King as well as human rights today. It’s been 64 years since the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional; Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka was a watershed moment for the civil rights movement, and we will discuss whether that monumental legislative moment has indeed been the great equalizer it was intended to be. We will most likely not solve these issues today. Instead, we intend to leave enough food for thought to inspire ongoing work on the legacy and framework of Dr. King. We will begin to address the ongoing challenges affecting freedom, equality and justice in Memphis, across our nation and around the globe. This program will address and examine the very critical ongoing issues related to civil rights and the fight for equality 50 years after the death of Dr. King. Programs such as this don’t just happen overnight, they are the result of an entire community effort. The National Civil Rights Museum assembled a group of esteemed panelists, and together with our sponsors, they have collaborated to commemorate Dr. King and his life’s work, and to 11

take stock of just how far we’ve come and what work is still to be done. Fifty years after Dr. King’s death, three groups gathered to discuss organized labor, current conditions for the African-American workforce, prospects for the future in a changing economy and the promise of education. We have put together this compendium to serve as both a reference and a keepsake for all of our community who work hard to change the world each day. We hope it can be used as a resource to help activists today as they organize to continue the fight for equality and justice. We will look at education, the most important engine of upward mobility, and recognize the setbacks to equal education over these 50 years since Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. We will note the progress of the '70s and the setbacks of the '80s in this sphere. We will discuss the pockets of this country that refused to integrate, deciding to open their own segregated private schools and continue a silent racism in education. We will discuss and debate the promise of equal education and the result of communities that fail to offer equal education opportunities and the ramifications of those decisions. The climate of equality and African-American opportunity in the workforce has evolved, and the institutions that moved forward have become the very mirrors that reflect the position of young Black students. As the world caught up with Dr. King, organized coalitions of Black children, students and adults came together and slowly forced diversity. We will note the milestones and movements, and the times corporations and legislators began to give more to African-American children. We will mark the historic progress we’ve made and prescribe the work to be done. In conclusion, we will not only have a compendium summarizing the discussions, recommendations and important pieces of Dr. King’s legacy, we will have a catalyst for contemplation, and for action. 12


“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. INTRODUCTION Dr. King came to Memphis three times to support strikers and take a stand for the equality and dignity of all workers. Supporting unions, fighting for fair wages and seeking a road out of poverty for poor people of all colors was the hallmark of his life’s work. On the evening of April 4, 1968, as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, Dr. King was assassinated. The framework of Dr. King’s work and the methods he implored people to align with have stood the test of time. Critical issues of housing, fair pay and clear paths into the workforce without prejudice are as relevant today as they were in 1968. The assassination of Dr. King is both a memorial of his legacy and a reflective reminder of the work to be done. The past 50 years have been marked by tremendous gains in civil rights, improvement in poverty and strides in education equality, as well as wage and income advancement. Today, we face new and unforeseen obstacles and setbacks to this progress alongside powerful attempts to turn back the clock. Dr. King’s legacy of organization and coalitions is giving rise to a new generation of civic leaders and ambitious activists, not only to preserve and protect our great achievements but to raise their collective voice and keep pushing the work and the world forward. This program, commemorating the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination, is being held at the very spot he was struck down at, which is now a museum dedicated to the civil rights efforts of Dr. King and many others. 13

TAYLOR BRANCH • KEYNOTE SPEECH Taylor Branch offered his reflections on what the legacy of Dr. King’s movement meant for the world and for continued change today. Dr. King’s movement was about our future, if we are lucky to make it, and not about our past. Either we are going forward, or we will be lost. Before he began, Branch noted the irony of a White man speaking about the most historic Black Man in the history of America. That man was Dr. King. Something changed in Branch’s life, at an early age, and he was compelled by both the movement and the man of Dr. King. Taylor Branch reviewed Dr. King’s career, in a few snapshots, to illustrate that we are poised on a precipice of whether we can recover the principles that are essential for our future.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Taylor Branch grew up in a nonpolitical family and had every intention of becoming a surgeon. During his most formative years, when children absorb the most, Taylor saw a movement that he couldn’t ignore. He was young when Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka was passed and in high school during the Freedom Rides. In his senior year of high school, Dr. King was murdered, and Taylor Branch was profoundly moved. The civil rights era was a frightening time for everyone, and Branch was no exception. He was deeply shaken from watching the Atlanta Temple bombing and seeing swastikas disturbed him. For Branch, the



deep issues of the time resonated inside him, and he saw his own friends’ involvement in racial issues. Seeing friends go to hear Ray Charles and Sam Cooke, enjoying the wonderful crossover Black music, confused him. When the city of Atlanta decried itself the city “too busy to hate,” Taylor wondered if in fact the people needed to stay busy so that they wouldn’t hate. Drawn in and gripped by the movement, Taylor told his mother that he would be joining this Civil Rights campaign sometime, perhaps when he was 30 years old. Within days, Branch watched on television as Dr. King marched in Birmingham with children, shocking a nation. When he marched with children into fire hoses and dogs, Dr. King was called depraved by George Wallace. Robert Kennedy called the Birmingham marches unconscionable and irresponsible and Malcom X said that only a coward would take children on such a dangerous march. As the world questioned Dr. King and his civil rights movement, the photographs seemed to awaken something in people. How could a march with children move a nation to demand a Civil Rights Bill? Branch saw the power of this great movement as segregation became unconstitutional under the new Civil Rights Act of 1964. Unrest and people rising up only increased after that and Branch saw things intensifying through Selma. After dropping his pre-med courses and switching to political science, Branch finished at Chapel Hill and headed to work with Julian Bond in Atlanta. Together, he and Bond challenged Maddox and got seated at the Chicago convention, where he met John Lewis. Branch went on to work for Lewis and his Voter Education Project in 1969. He was responsible for finding people to administer voter registration drives in 20 counties in South Georgia. These counties were majority Black communities, with practically no registered voters. That summer, he had three days in each county to find


people capable and willing to administer the voter registration drives. He looked for the Black Baptist Church to knock on the door and hope he discovered the next Martin Luther King. He got thrown out by all of the ministers; they said they had things well in hand and so did the school superintendents, the morticians and everybody else. Eventually, Branch decided to go out into the fields and talk with women. The women were honest with him, even ridiculing his efforts to register voters. He prevailed in three counties of Georgia by talking to women who were midwives. He never would have guessed in a million years that they were all midwives, who had an authority and an independence from the White economy that allowed them to escape the pervasive fear in those counties. Taylor finally decided that this movement contained wonders beyond his imagination. He knew that the only way to find out where this movement had come from was to go back in time and write it himself. To really understand Dr. King, his life and legacy, Branch needed to relive it to write it. Taylor knew he couldn’t learn the history of a movement that grew out of the Black church without certain realities of how the Black church culture worked. The first time Branch went to Memphis, he stayed in the Lorraine Hotel, the site of Dr. King’s assassination. “I got a lot of very funny looks when I said I was going to stay a week because a lot of people were staying by the hour.” He stayed in Room 308, the room next to Room 307, where Dr. King had stayed, but the motel didn’t have a key to it. In fact, they said they didn’t have a key to any of the rooms. When you returned, you had to go to the office, and they would let you in. Branch notes that the Lorraine has come a long way and that the National Civil Rights Museum is now an amazing building dedicated to Dr. King’s legacy and work for generations to come.



While gathering up information, Taylor knew what happened to Dr. King in Memphis was very deep. While watching the television footage from the day of Dr. King’s death, Branch realized it was being reported by a White man who was interviewing Reverend Ralph D. Abernathy. Branch kept asking Abernathy about Dr. King’s death but he was in shock. When he asked Abernathy how he met Dr. King, a floodgate of stories emerged. He snapped out of his trance and said, “Young man I first met Martin Luther King, Jr. on a cold, rainy January day in 1954, when he arrived at my parsonage in the company of our prophet, our learned mentor, Vernon Johns,” and he started telling stories of Vernon Johns. So when Branch went to see Reverend Abernathy and ask him some Vernon Johns questions, it was like putting the key into an ignition. Dr. King’s career can really be divided in two: the reluctant ascending King from the bus boycott all the way up to the Nobel Prize. Through the early period of sit-ins and the Freedom Rides, he was very reluctant. In fact, he didn’t want to join the sit-ins or the Freedom Rides. Dr. King knew the danger on the buses, but he also knew his role, and the power of his dialogue in the larger picture of the Civil Rights Movement. Despite some outcry, Dr. King needed to continue leading this movement, even at the risk of being locked up and silenced. Dr. King never veered from his belief in redeeming America from bigotry and poverty. Dr. King had said that his goal, and the movement’s goal, was to redeem the soul of America from the triple scourge of bigotry, war and poverty — an astonishingly audacious claim for movements of a largely invisible people who had access to no traditional political weapons. They didn’t want to free just themselves, they wanted to free the whole world and not just one race. From 1964, Dr. King became a more traditional politician and was driven to convince America to abandon segregation, that it was too much to not allow Black children into public libraries and to force Black people to sit


in the back of the bus. The Black movement was going too far too fast and people had begun to resent it. Dr. King became even more driven, and he dragged his staff to Chicago. He wanted to show that racism was not just about the South, it was in the North too. He exposed the hatred on the streets of Chicago, where Jesse Jackson had worked for small business owners in the Black community. The fact that the plan for the Poor People’s Campaign was modeled on the Bonus Army is often forgotten. In 1932, 17,000 World War II veterans, along with supporters, marched on Washington, D.C. The marchers, totaling 43,000, demanded the certificates which were the difference in money the soldiers could have earned had they not enlisted. Patton and MacArthur drove them back out of D.C. The Poor People’s Campaign was not the first to march on the steps of Washington, D.C. demanding fairness. Dr. King was diverted to Memphis in 1968. Memphis always had stormy weather and it was on February 1, 1968, that it was worse with tornadoes and gully washers, but the priority was to get Elvis across town to a pregnant Priscilla. That same day, the sanitation trucks in Memphis were going through the neighborhoods, and under strict rules they were not, no matter what the weather, to seek shelter in the neighborhoods of Memphis. The garbage trucks were cylindrical oldfashioned trucks. There was room for one collector and driver on each truck. The rain got really terrible, and two collectors got through the slit, just behind the cab with the garbage. As a broom fell on the lever, it compacted Echol Cole and Robert Walker in the back of a garbage truck. One witness saw a leg trying to struggle to get out. Two men were crushed with the garbage. This is the background of the slogan,



“I Am a Man,” and the very reason that Dr. King came to Memphis to support the sanitation workers strike. He said he was coming because nothing could better personify the goals of the Poor People’s Campaign than what happened in Memphis.

“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Since then the country has been stalled between liberation and gridlock because we lost track of that message. Dr. King invented the vocabulary of modern politics and we turned away from that message for almost 50 years. Taylor Branch said in his thesis that race is and has always been freedom’s gate in America. It can swing open when we make it swing open and it can swing closed when we let it swing closed, but it’s always at the center. Today we’re in another turbulent time and women of color, Dreamers, White women, Black Lives Matter activists and high school students are upset by the culture of guns. It’s almost like Birmingham in 1963. There is a lot percolating in the air and Branch believes we’re in the '50s again. Dr. King said the sit-ins were important because there are certain elements of human nature that are so stubborn, words alone are not enough. Words need sacrifice, and these college students have found a way to make witness against segregation with sacrifice, as Dr. King said. Time will tell if the students against guns, the women, the Black and Brown people, the LGBTQ community and any other segregated, excluded groups will organize and make change.


Branch noted three areas to continue the work of Dr. King: We’re caught in a great paradox that the Black-led Civil Rights Movement has opened freedom’s gate for lots of other people. For women who couldn’t go to the University of North Carolina, seniors, for the disabled, for gays and lesbians, things far beyond the imagination of most of the people in the Civil Rights Movement at the time. Branch mentioned the fall of the Soviet Union and so many other achievements we’ve managed, but somehow, equality eludes us. How are we able to command our first-rate military to free people all over the globe, but at home, we cannot give Blacks, women or others equality? People need to remember that Dr. King felt it his responsibility, and citizens need to rise up in their voices. If you have a vote, you have a voice, and leadership today is everywhere. There are all kinds of leadership and we should be debating new methods of leading. Dr. King was a prophetic leader. He put one foot in the Constitution, one foot in the scripture. Equal souls, equal votes. Either way, it points toward equal citizenship if you believe in your sacred heritage or your civic heritage. Branch believes we need every kind of leadership we can get; and beyond leadership, we need every citizen to think that it’s the citizens’ duty to be leaders. We should debate whether high school kids can be serious, and we need to have a larger discussion about today’s leadership. The second issue that Branch noted to bear in mind is the issue of violence versus nonviolence. This is a difficult issue because people tend to bounce off nonviolence the same way they tend to bounce off race, to find some safe ground to say, “I’m not a bad person.” Branch discussed violence versus strength and whether an unarmed minority



can actually win. It’s a political and practical issue of whether winning as a nonviolent, unarmed minority group is only for the weak. We must destigmatize this way of thinking because we haven’t gotten past it. This is a profound topic to contemplate because violence is a salient issue and voting is the greatest nonviolent invention. Branch said optimism versus cynicism was a notable topic to debate and Dr. King had so much realistic optimism. We need to understand that it was near genius of Dr. King to lift, from the bottom of society, a nation up and out of a disease called racism. We are in a very cynical time and optimism is bleak in the soul of America. Citizens are depleted of optimism and the country is starved for good leadership. Branch notes that the very people who were denied the most rose up, and lifted us all up, in a time when there was little optimism. Where are we headed? Branch implores us to lead, to reject cynicism and grasp the optimism that a man who represented the most disenfranchised group did. If Dr. King, a Black man representing a segregated society, could lead from behind, then we all can too. Dr. King’s Freedom Rides are exactly what we need today. We are spiritually, if not politically and morally, back in 1963, and leadership can pull us back off the edge we sit on. With new meaning, and voices from every point on the map, a new generation can use the same organization and build coalitions that change us again. Branch spoke of Dr. King and the legacy he left us with in 1968. Dr. King’s work goes on today, as new leaders see optimism, and cross-cultural coalitions arise. Dr. King’s fight for equality is seeing a resurgence as shimmers of 1963 shine on the dawn of 2020. The voices of optimism are the eloquent Dr. Kings of tomorrow.




PANEL 1: MEMPHIS 50 YEARS LATER MARCHING FORWARD In the first discussion, we go back in time and see what led Dr. King to Memphis in 1968, and debate key points on poverty and economic equality. Looking back at that time, we measure our progress since the assassination of Dr. King in Memphis. Labor markets were different then, and the best way into the workforce was through organized labor unions. In fact, for people of color, labor unions were the only path to a good job and hope for economic advancement. Of course, labor unions were not always popular; they forced corporations to treat their employees fairly and took action when needed. A strike was the best way for a group of angry workers to make their voices heard. Dr. King was an economist and knew that supporting the sanitation workers’ strike was important for the workers and so Dr. King came to Memphis to continue his fight for equality and joined the sanitation strike. In February of 1968, when city sanitation workers voted to strike for better conditions, higher wages and union representation, Dr. King came to Memphis three times to support the strikers and to take a stand for the dignity of all workers. On the evening of April 4, his third visit, Dr. King was assassinated as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. Twelve days after the tragedy, on April 16, the strike ended in victory. The sanitation workers won better pay and recognition of their union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Fifty years later, on April 3, 2018, three panels of distinguished speakers gathered to discuss the 1968 environment in Memphis for organized labor, current conditions for the African-American workforce, prospects for the future in a changing economy and the promise of education. 23



MODERATOR MICHELE NORRIS Award-winning journalist Michele Norris moderated each of the panels. Alongside winning the Peabody, Emmy and Livingston awards, Norris is founder of The Race Card Project, Executive Director of The Bridge and former host of National Public Radio evening news program All Things Considered, where she was the first African-American female host for National Public Radio. Norris has also published a book, The Grace of Silence, and holds an honorary doctorate in journalism from the College of the Holy Cross.


PA N E L I S T S ELENA DELAVEGA Assistant Professor of Social Work at the University of Memphis “We can look at the indications of wages. We can look at the indicators of disparities. We’re all talking about the same thing and there is exclusion and it’s exclusion by race and there are people who simply do not have access to participation in society.”

MICHAEL K. HONEY Fred T. and Dorothy G. Haley Endowed Professor of the Humanities at the University of Washington, Tacoma “The best anti-poverty mechanism is a union. If you don’t have a union, how are you gonna push your wages up? Employers aren’t gonna do that for you, government’s not going to do that for you, you have to do that for yourself, but you have to be organized to do it and that’s what the Memphis story at ‘68 was all about.” “Remember the historical memory of King. Remember the legacy. Get moving, you know. Build your alliances, build your coalitions, build your networks. Vote these people out of office to begin with. And when you vote them out have a program to put in that place. With all these young kids fighting the gun violence, I hope they are moving in that same direction, ‘Okay, if we knock these people out of power, then what? What’s our plan for change?’” 26


JAMES H. JOHNSON, JR. William R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship and Director, Urban Investment Strategies Center at the Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise “Segregation constrains networks, but in a social media world we ought to be able to connect kids with very diverse networks that are global. But we have to do it in a conscious kind of way and get people to understand the value of sponsorship as opposed to just mentorship. That doesn’t mean mentorship isn’t important, but sponsorship is really important.” “What do you need in your tool kit? You need the entrepreneurial acumen because the only constant is change and if one door shuts in your face, you’re going to have to figure out how to cut another one in this economy. Secondly, you need contextual intelligence, the ability to read the tea leaves of change particularly to ensure that you’re not blindsided by unanticipated change. Becoming a Master of Information Management, this is contextual intelligence. Impeccable soft skills and cultural elasticity, the ability to move on the streets to the suites without missing a beat. That’s what it’s all about in the cultural context today.” “We think that there’s a huge, huge upside here that can be an engine and a driver of job growth and business development and I think it’s really worth looking at because, you know, the challenge for Memphis is it’s not growing and the people that you’re losing are prime working-age individuals and so I say you have to employ, develop your own through improving public education and bring back your own, the talented people who have gone away. It’s a propitious opportunity to do it because many of those people who are doing well someplace else got aging parents and grandparents here — it’s time to come home.”




CHARLES MCKINNEY Neville Frierson Bryan Chair of Africana Studies and Associate Professor of History at Rhodes College “So, we can’t simultaneously be invested in a status quo that makes people poor, that makes people uneducated, and so we want to fix education and poverty. We can’t have it both ways, so we have to take a cold hard assessment of our investment in segregation. That’s the key ending thing to do and that’s hard to do.”

WENDI THOMAS Editor and Publisher, MLK50: Justice Through Journalism “You’ve got unions in the public sector employees and so we are making a mockery of King’s legacy if we don’t really wrestle with these things and everybody starts out where they are right? If you’re not paying your workers enough today, okay that’s just the reality today. But what is your plan to truly embody King’s legacy and raise those wages to something that workers can live on?”




MEMPHIS 50 YEARS LATER MARCHING FORWARD When Dr. King first came to Memphis in 1968, he was pursuing the Poor People’s Campaign, which was about housing, health care, jobs and a meaningful income for all people. Dr. King was very clear on the mechanisms that would counter the deeply institutionalized and widespread poverty in the U.S.; he set his sights on unions as the ideal medium for change. Dr. King believed that unions represent the best organized group to collectively fight for fair pay. He wanted to break the poverty cycle by providing the best entry into the workforce through organized labor unions. This blueprint became widely modified over the years as organizations and coalitions brought movements that would create change. Today, the best antidote to a powerful group that believes wages are too high and that profits should funnel up rather than trickle down is an organized group fighting together for fairness and equality. Educational and economic equality and opportunity are not aspirations; they are American rights. If groups organize, unite with a cohesive voice, remain tenacious and demand that both our elected leaders and corporate leaders listen, eventually they will be heard. If families against racism, gun violence and police brutality organize and pursue a common voice, change will come. Leaders such as Dr. King know that it is not a few voices but many that beget progress. Like Dr. King, today’s young students understand that the loudest voice against guns in schools is an assembly of voices. Dr. King’s framework for building coalitions young and old, Black, Brown and White, is the very movement being replicated today. 31

MEMPHIS 50 YEARS LATER MARCHING FORWARD In 1968, Dr. King could never have imagined his legacy of organized movements would begin on an invisible internet connecting large groups to fight against unfair working conditions, sexism and bigotry. The Fight for $15 movement began in 2012, when fast food workers walked off the job at McDonald’s in New York City. As is the case in corporations everywhere, the low-wage workers hand over profits while they struggle to survive. The people behind the Fight for $15 were told they would never succeed, so they got organized, fought and demanded that the politicians representing them support their movement. Minimum wage is not a living wage and 22 million people came together to prove that, and to fight like Dr. King imagined so many years ago. The Fight for $15 has gone national, with other workers replicating the McDonald’s originators, showing that movements succeed when people assemble. These actions are a testament to Dr. King’s simple theory that organizational persistence and national coalitions are the strongest repellent to poverty, low wages and economic marginalization. The Fight for $15, the movement for $15 minimum wage, invoked Dr. King’s historic “bonds of memory.” There is an inherent need, in this country, to keep poor people in poverty and without education. A cheap worker is the financial engine of big business and the investment in poverty is both national and systemic. When the cost of incarceration in California is $80,000, the same cost as one year at Harvard University, and the system chooses to incarcerate rather than educate a Black male, you can conclude that racism is deeply economic. The systemic racism and prejudice that Dr. King fought against are ingrained deeper than at just the individual level; these systems are held within the very infrastructure of our cities and communities. Then and now, urban populations have depended on buses, trains or subways to get to work or school.



MEMPHIS 50 YEARS LATER MARCHING FORWARD To highlight how invested this country is in holding back the poor, just look at our broken transit system; we can see evidence in the city subway’s perpetual state of disrepair or the often intermittent bus service. This is the transportation we all rely on, and it’s no coincidence that the further one goes from the city center, the less reliable transit gets. In 1940, both Black and White children started school at 8 a.m. While the White children rode the bus, the Black children walked in the heat. Arriving late, reprimanded and scolded, the Black child was not only embarrassed but given a warning. Warnings led to police records, which perpetuated the trap of racism. Our infrastructure remains ill-equipped in most cases and unreliable in others, not giving people on the outskirts of town a chance. Most outer-borough, poorer neighborhoods depend heavily on efficient infrastructure. Building new transit systems would level the playing field and create dependable transportation for everyone. Likewise, a well-run, dependable infrastructure of both public and private transportation would be an enormous step toward ending poverty. A 21st century infrastructure for all of our cities and neighborhoods, not just the rich ones, is an economic partnership of private funding and local municipalities. Well-run cities and communities improve lives, create jobs and attract more residents. Dr. King knew that the unions paving and pouring the tar and cement were the workers that would benefit from a municipal upgrade. He understood that political decisions coupled with private money could solve two problems by delivering both jobs and infrastructure, to give everyone a chance to arrive on time. Looking at how marginalized our communities were and the evolution of the traditional family gives us some justification for speaking about 50 years of progress, yet there is still insufficient economic and educational equality for communities of color. Socio-economic


MEMPHIS 50 YEARS LATER MARCHING FORWARD segregation only perpetuates racism and the marginalization that has plagued Black communities over these past 50 years. Now, our African-American families may have two generations of incarcerated unemployed men, and a grandmother supporting the entire family on her $17,000 a year of Social Security. These multi-generational poor households are the result of incarceration without education or counseling to re-enter communities and the workforce. When we discuss education and our children, we need to mention other important tools, outside of the school, that can help them. Our children are the future, but if we traumatize them by disciplinary discrimination and label them a criminal, before first grade, you can expect the children and our future to look bleak. However, if we invest in our children, by including them in networks that open doors of opportunity and promise, the future will be brighter. We can sponsor young students by preparing them for the workforce. If we decide that emotional and contextual intelligence adds to traditional education, we can do better for our incoming workforce. By arming our children with every tool, from innovation to social skills, we can give them the ability to remain agile in an ever-changing economy.




CONCLUSION During the course of the first panel, we have discussed the state of our children. We examined the promise of equal education and asked ourselves if we have in fact delivered on that promise. Fair wages and sustainability in their economic well-being are the tools, coupled with education, that equip our children for a successful entry into the workforce — and they are as essential as the classroom studies. Wages and jobs are the bedrock of economic security; without a fair wage and an economic means to rise above the poverty line, communities simply cannot move ahead. There were discussions of what a fair wage is, along with an understanding that movements demanding fair wages are essential to continued progress in economic equality. Dr. King believed that organization and labor unions were the best path into the job market, and today coalitions are forming to protect workers in much the same way they did in 1968. These organizations are particularly important as we see a nation invested in segregation. Plantation capitalism gave rise to a segregated economy, and today poor Black communities suffer from multi-generational incarceration and the economy of prisons. To move forward, we need to ensure communities are prepared to enter the workforce. With education and a fair playing field, a new generation will experience greater economic advancement. Dr. King’s work for equality and economic opportunity has progressed, and past investments in poverty have been alleviated, but there is still work to be done.



PA N E L R E C O M M E N DAT I O N S The investment in poverty is deep; we need to open economic opportunities and create equal jobs for all communities. If you are a corporate leader or a small business owner, how can you open doors of opportunity? We are in need of 21st century infrastructure, which is an enormous job creator and transportation equalizer. What infrastructure job would you be interested in? Early education is a key to economic prosperity, and teachers are vastly underpaid and undervalued. Would you consider becoming an educator? Corporations and other community leaders need to sponsor children to give them economic access. What company would you like to work for in your town? How can you open your network to students that might not know the people you do? And how can you bridge the divide of the C-suite and let young people know that you will open doors of opportunity? Contact your local elected leaders, and become involved in important organizations, so that investment in poverty never happens again.




QUESTIONS  How will YOU organize a movement such as the Fight for $15 or Occupy Wall Street?  How will YOU force your elected officials to invest in infrastructure?  How will YOU participate in the sponsorship of our children of color?  How will YOU fight for fair wages?  How can YOU participate and continue to eradicate poverty?  How will YOU take action to end the investment in incarceration?


“And one day we must ask the question, ‘Why are there 40 million poor

people in America?’ And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.



PANEL 2: Poverty & Economic Equity: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow We asked for equality. We got integration. That’s a profound seven-word statement. We won political inclusion and formal rights, particularly in the South, to vote. But we didn’t get economic citizenship. We still experience exclusion and marginalization in the labor market. Three distinguished panelists delve into the long-term effects of systemic economic disenfranchisement and the question of equality in education. We discuss the historic roots of an economy based on unequal wages and two-sided opportunities, and run by one group with the sweat of a powerless group. We will examine legislation from social security to the G.I. Bill and why communities of color were written out of the legislation before it passed. Dr. King called for full employment in his book Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? The panelists address the concept of full employment, and if a lopsided economy can fairly benefit all participants. We discuss fair wages and fair jobs in an economy framed by one side with no access for the other. We discuss creating wealth versus sustainable income, and employment versus entrepreneurship. The speakers provide us with their recommendations on how we can create a nation that provides for a balanced economic landscape, as well as how communities such as Memphis can help foster community wealth-building. 39

PA N E L I S T S J U L I A N N E M A LV E A U X Economist, Author and Founder of Economic Education “People like to tell Black people if you saved more money — well, if you save more money, you would probably individually be better off, but if you save every penny you had and never had another new pair of shoes, that wouldn’t work for me. “Those words, ‘predatory capitalism,’ you just have to underline them in your mind because what those people are doing is essentially taking from the needy to give to the greedy and basically not protecting people. Dr. King would be hollering.”

RANDALL ROBINSON Author and former Professor of Law at Penn State Law School “It’s like you’ve started a race and you told us to wait in the starter blocks, hold back, while the White one is off and going, and then you take a pistol and shoot the Black runner in the leg and then you tell them, ‘Now run.’ We can’t catch up. You will never catch up until this country comes to terms with itself and its idea of what the democratic ideal is supposed to mean.”



DORIAN WARREN President of the Center for Community Change Action (CCCA), and Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute “We are at that point now, that inflection point in history. What will we choose to do in this moment about how we treat the least among us at home and conflicts around the world, including some conflicts we’re likely to get ourselves into today? “I would say really quickly, people say the man made the movement but the movement actually made the man and we think of Dr. King as a static figure. We ignore all his interlocutors and his engagement. If you think of a young John Lewis or young Jesse Jackson or an Ella Baker or Diane Nash or Stokely, there is a lot happening in this moment and he is evolving. He is not the same King in [19]68 as he was in [19]55 in terms of the evolution of his political analysis and his strategy. So, I think the question as we think about legacy is ‘Which King do you choose to honor, and which King do you choose to ignore?’ That is the question I think for all of us as we go forward.”


P O V E R T Y & E C O N O M I C E Q U I T Y : Y E S T E R D A Y, T O D A Y A N D T O M O R R O W Perhaps no other group of people has been as fundamentally handicapped, stripped of their heritage and rich history and then systematically blocked from any educational or economic tool to move forward, then African-Americans. The Civil Rights Movement, and the work for equality by Dr. King and others, resulted in some of the biggest changes in modern history. The details, and tangible freedoms, were not in some of the landmark legislation passed decrying freedom. In fact, every step of the way, and each victory, clouded the reality that these were half freedoms and partial equalities. In discussing poverty, economic equality, fair wages and adequate education, we need to understand that equality is not integration. For that matter, we still have a long way to go in fundamental equality for Black men and women. Economic opportunity and the labor market, the bastion of free market capitalism, has doors that open for some yet remain closed for others. As we intensify our lens and look closely at how this country paves paths of economic opportunity and security for one group and not another, we are blinded by the deep racism that still exists. With social mandates to open doors to communities of color, we see only ceremonial positions being handed out, as tokens of diversity, not substantial positions with the power to change. Dr. King’s victories during the '60s serve as a platform that we continue to test and fight asking for the same basic equalities in the job market, in equal pay and certainly in access to education. Somehow, 50 years after his death, we are still fighting against the top-down investment in segregation. 42


P O V E R T Y & E C O N O M I C E Q U I T Y : Y E S T E R D A Y, T O D A Y A N D T O M O R R O W Home ownership is the “American privilege” for some but the financing of a home is either not available or offered at a higher cost for Blacks. Predatory capitalism and setting economic loopholes for one group and high bars for another, is economic disenfranchisement and inequality, at best. At worst, we have an economic system that preys on the poor. A home loan at 4 percent for the wealthy and 7 percent for the poor communities is not building the American dream of homeownership, but rather, ripping off the poor to pay off the wealthy. Some of our groundbreaking legislation, by predominantly White members of government, were anything but equal to communities across America. Fair Housing became law in 1968, as the prize of the work of Dr. King and the Civil Rights Act. Supposedly a law to protect against discrimination, the predatory lenders saw this as an opportunity to take from the needy and give to the greedy. The G.I. Bill was a mechanism to offer education to the men that served in our military and protected our very freedoms. A million AfricanAmericans joined the military during World War II, as volunteers or draftees, and another 1.5 million registered to fight for this country. We didn’t honor our servicemen equally; we offered school support, low interest loans, job training and unemployment benefits but we didn’t extend that offer to the Black servicemen who lived in the South under Jim Crow laws. The G.I. Bill, like other social programs, was intentionally designed to exclude Black men who had served on the front lines of war, on behalf of all Americans. By excluding Black veterans from programs that would have provided education for jobs and ultimately homeownership, years of wealth accumulation and advancement were lost. Like the others, the Social Security Act of 1935 was crafted with the pencil of racist legislators and the pen of their White corporate constituents. They all agreed that passage of the legislation came with 43

P O V E R T Y & E C O N O M I C E Q U I T Y : Y E S T E R D A Y, T O D A Y A N D T O M O R R O W a price: They agreed that to keep the poor in poverty was economically sound for their business strategy. It should come as absolutely no surprise that the lopsided legislation passed by Congress paved the way for corporations, and society at large, to freely set a different standard for doing business with communities of color. If the moral leaders invest in segregation, you can expect the green light for economic inequality and predatory capitalism to flourish.

CONCLUSION Looking back at the history and legacy of African-Americans, we can begin to understand the people. In 1860 they had become a “slave force” worth approximately $4 billion, yet they had been the property of slave owners. They were the historically anonymous property of White land owners. Documented in theaters, and glamorized in movies, the Great Pyramid was an African wonder, the Queen of Sheba was African and the saying “from here to Timbuktu,” a saying that provoked exotica, referenced a great monument in Africa. So, Africa had a glorious history, but the anonymous slaves brought to the U.S. were mere property. Stripped of their heritage, identity, language and beliefs, the African-American population has never had a chance to bask in their greatness, grow together and become a great people. While other groups that suffered were somehow fairly recognized and compensated, the Black people were never unshackled or decoupled from the slave status handed to them at Jamestown. If the best-seller lists don’t include books on African-American history, the reading population will never believe this is as rich a history as any other.



P O V E R T Y & E C O N O M I C E Q U I T Y : Y E S T E R D A Y, T O D A Y A N D T O M O R R O W We need an abundance of books and texts that reflect the struggle and the truth of the unique Black historical experience.

PA N E L R E C O M M E N DAT I O N S Shine a light on the rich history of African-American people. Contemplate the difference between segregation and freedom. When you want to solve a problem, begin by examining who profits and who are the victims. Understand predatory capitalism so that no one ever becomes victim to unfair banking practices.

QUESTIONS  When you take out a loan, will you make sure that the terms are fair and equal, holding financial institutions accountable for fair practices to all communities?  Will you become a professor of African-American History so that young Black children know the rich land they came from?  What kind of Dr. King will you be? Will you become a community activist or a politician who makes sure legislation passed in Washington, D.C. does not leave out communities of color?  Would you be interested in a career in transportation so that you participate in a new transit system with trains and buses that serve all urban areas? 45



PANEL 3: THE PROMISE OF EDUCATION In this panel, Karen Harrell, Dorsey E. Hopson II, Walter M. Kimbrough and John B. King examine the years since Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. We discuss equal education, and the economic access and opportunity that come with real equality in education. Communities of color need resources to offer the same level of education to their communities that White schools are afforded. Without economic equality there is no chance for fair and equal education in this country. In 1954, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka became the law of the land. Separate but equal was history. Fast forward to 2017 and Alice Yin’s article in The New York Times, “Education by the Numbers,” where she found that 90 percent of Black students in Washington, D.C. and 81.7 percent of Black students in New York City attend segregated schools. What was the promise that was made to students of color in 1954? Has that promise been fulfilled?

“A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies... A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

We talk about the ecosystem for education today and the impact of early childhood education on academic achievement, the competitive landscape traditional public-school systems must operate within today and the role of higher education, particularly HBCUs in a desegregated society. We discuss these issues and what is required for immediate improvement in learning outcomes for young people. Panelists address potential innovations in education to propel our young people forward and ensure we are competitive globally. They also discuss the need for continuing education in an age when second and third careers are not uncommon. We ask if we have the moral leadership and the moral appetite to change so many years after Dr. King and his work following Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. Thick in the divide of a country diversifying, we question just how divided we are, and if we have the will to holistically educate all children.


PA N E L I S T S KAREN HARRELL Vice President of Early Childhood Services at Porter-Leath “We’re looking in the early childhood space. We’re working now to try to address the social-emotional issues or challenges that our children are faced with. We can work with the academic part of it but if a child is not socially and emotionally equipped, then how can they begin to learn?”

DORSEY E. HOPSON II Shelby County Schools Former Superintendent “What do you need when kids graduate from high school or college? Let’s work together to put together a program that works. So, for those kids who don’t necessarily want to go to college, they can be career ready, and that’s so important in a place like here where you have the suffocating poverty. A kid comes out making 20 bucks an hour, you know, on a real career trajectory, that can change his or her life. “So, these are real life issues, right. So, as we think about how we want to move forward in a next century perspective, we still have to make sure that we are addressing some of the social and emotional needs and concerns that our students have today. And so, you have to be comprehensive and say again -- I think what we talked about first -- you know, we want to get folks all the way up here, but we have got to meet people where they are. So, we have to shoot for here but let’s bring you along at the same time because the impacts of poverty are real.” 48


WALTER M. KIMBROUGH Author and President of Dillard University “My daughter is in a charter school which is very diverse. She’s in the 6th grade and she just got her first Black teacher this year, and the school is very diverse. So, I mean, we see that, and my wife is going to be on the board where our son is and she’s like ‘I gotta lean on them to say this is New Orleans, y’all can’t find one Black teacher?’ That’s the kind of activism that we need. “How do we incentivize people wanting to become teachers like we would professional sports and all those other things? I mean, we’ve gotta start paying top dollar to say, ‘Our best and our brightest, we want you be teachers, and here are the resources to do that.’ We haven’t done that. That has to happen.”

JOHN B. KING JR. President and CEO of The Education Trust “So we’ve really got to ask, ‘Are we educating all our young people, including White young people, to think about a society that is just for all?’ and if we did that, I think we would have more communities like Montgomery County, Maryland, which has a forty-year history of intentionally integrated housing, intentionally integrated schools and has sustained that, but that’s taking an investment in moral leadership.”




THE PROMISE OF EDUCATION Dr. King would want us to talk about education because it was the driver of upward mobility. It has been over 50 years since legislation was passed demanding all children an equal right to education, but it has been slow in reality and even slower in becoming the fabric of our communities. Integrated education is still pushing forward as racism stops children at every step, illustrating the hate and bigotry still deep in our society. Years after the law, it is difficult to see classrooms filled with a diverse group of children. African-American children remain unprepared for the workforce and ill-equipped to seize opportunities that would propel them forward. There was a period of great progress and integration in the '70s, but things stalled in the '80s, with the political landscape reflecting the topdown legislative pyramid in Washington, D.C. Ronald Reagan believed there had been little progress in the Black communities, where public funding was the backbone of a good education and well-prepared teachers. Reagan abandoned support of school integration, providing fewer resources and declaring education a private system that shouldn’t rely on public funding. With less access to quality teachers and wellrounded schools, poorer communities were declared an educational failure. Lackluster performance and unprepared students were cited as the singular reason of school failures in poorer communities. With little recognition that the more affluent communities were able to enhance a school system, poorer communities were subsequently penalized for simply having less funding. The new change in political climate, and lack of resources, paved the way for privileged communities to prosper while lesser economic areas fell. 51


Without funding, education became a socio-economic twist of racism and segregation, by any other name. Good schools were reflected in prominent neighborhoods while poorer communities’ schools declined along with local funding. Education Trust released a study on school spending. It showed that the spending gap between low income and affluent districts, on average across the country, is more than $1,000 per pupil. But the gap between districts that serve students of color versus those that are predominately White is larger, about $1,800 per student. This shows the racial gap is more than socio-economic class. 52


THE PROMISE OF EDUCATION If an adequate education is not offered, you can expect poorly educated, ill-trained and unprepared students to enter a workforce and fail. Children need to learn how to socialize, how to problem solve and learn early coping mechanisms along with having a traditional classroom education. Learning self-awareness and having self-esteem lays out the foundation for social and emotional success. Without very early support for caregivers and parents, children will be educationally handicapped. For example, a child in a home without books will have an incrementally inferior vocabulary than one from a home filled with books to read. Three times the number of Black children are suspended by kindergarten, setting up trauma in schools and planting seeds of educational failure. Children stymied by racism in schools are less likely to succeed. These are very small steps, requiring minimal funds that communities could offer to prepare children for a sound educational foundation. If Black children are denied access to advanced placement courses, they are disproportionately prepared for higher education or even college. With barriers of entry at every step, the emotional signal to children of color is inequality and racism. It takes an entire community to offer children the staples of a home with books, ample preparation for school studies and a social awareness so that they can succeed. Businesses, philanthropists and faith leaders need to align with educators in order to succeed. Communities need to offer alternatives, such as training or trade schools, for kids that don’t want to attend college but want to participate equally in the economy. Businesses and companies need to invest in the communities they do business in by reflecting the needs of the children. When Ronald Reagan declared, “Education is no longer a public good,� the clocks not only turned back but the tone was set for segregation. 53


“No great victories are won in a war for the transformation of a whole people without total participation. Less than this will not create a new society…” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We are still governed by images that come out of the White House; the powerful don’t resemble the communities of color that are growing across the U.S. There is very little diversity in legislative circles and therefore, fewer opportunities for those who don’t look like them. Role models need to reflect the communities that they serve. The education system is directly linked to the economic ecosystem whereby if children are not given an equal opportunity to excel at the finest academic institutions, they will never keep up or achieve the economic benefits of the White affluent children with access. This is predatory capitalism; lack of funding for education and a system stacked against communities of color. While the country continues to diversify with Brown and Black, the minority is still the majority in the poorest communities. Yet, diversity is being heard by corporations that are creating new roles, such as Chief Diversity Officer and Corporate Social Responsibility teams. There is a reckoning, that diversity in every color and shape is not only here to stay but growing fast. Television and other mediums are reflecting their communities and consumers. Advertisers are speaking to a diverse audience and not just the traditional White wealthy suburb or rich urban city. While the most sought-after color for any company is overwhelmingly green, there is a growing understanding of the diverse neighborhoods. We still need more progress, and Dr. King would not be satisfied. Corporations need to offer real opportunities to Black communities that result in job opportunities



THE PROMISE OF EDUCATION and sustainable economic growth. The time has come to realize that the power concentrated in one small group of people is simply not strategy for companies or leaders. Cities such as Knoxville and Nashville are examples of business communities that have invested in schools. Investment in these communities has substantially changed the cities and quality of life for residents. The Tennessee Promise is the guarantee of two years of tuitionfree college. Students may take advantage of the program and choose any of the state’s 13 community colleges and 27 colleges of applied technology. This not only removes financial barriers but creates a true and free choice, a reality of the legislation passed decades ago in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. Demographics are moving South to the Sun Belt because of programs like this, and traditionally poorer states are benefitting and subsequently becoming destination cities. With digital communication, and remote opportunities, companies and families have moved to affordable cities that are igniting change. The Northern corridor of real estate opportunity and education excellence has been turned upside down by competition in states offering programs such as the Tennessee Promise. In a mobile world, and a crucial need for an affordable life, cities such as Nashville, Charleston and Atlanta are benefitting from the diversity that is flowing toward them. While the bastions of power in Washington, D.C. and corporate boardrooms still hold on, a diverse, flexible generation of civic-minded people are building their own coalitions of

“Justice too long delayed is justice denied.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

power. Dr. King’s roadmap of building and organizing has not been lost on this new generation. Historically Black Colleges and Universities are awash with applications from Black students longing to be amongst people such as themselves. Thriving with professors who look like us is not novel; in fact, the White communities have been doing it for years. How can a soul thrive and learn 55

THE PROMISE OF EDUCATION when they are the minority in a classroom? If they don’t see themselves in their teachers, it is impossible to understand where they fit into society. Social skills, business acumen and economic distribution go hand in hand with education. In fact, social skills are as important as a well-rounded education; having mentors and leaders showing the way is the gold standard for imitation. Access to networks that will open doors for students, through sponsorship, is the key to good jobs and real economic equality. As soon as Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka was passed, a movement began to devise a way to open new schools for White children and avoid integration. We need to see if we have the moral leadership in this country to invest in communities of color and take on meaningful integration and real inclusion. Dr. King wrote an essay in 1947, when he was a student at Morehouse College. He wrote of the importance of education in our communities, if not for the goal of intelligence than for the goal of social living. “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically.” We now stand at a crossroad, and we have a choice as a nation whether we have the will to do the work that Dr. King began. Can we build large coalitions representing the very diversity of our country, and move forward casting racism and bigotry aside? We need to decide if we will uphold the standards that other nations have embraced by prioritizing education for all. If we draw red lines, excluding communities of color from education of all kinds, we will not be able to sustain our own economy. We can’t afford to be short-sighted or racist; we are fundamentally unprepared for the economy of our own country.



THE PROMISE OF EDUCATION Singapore has prioritized the education of teachers and has mandated resources for training them. Knowing that the bedrock of any country is the education of their own citizens, Singapore prized and rewarded teachers. Our teachers need to be restored to the status of superheroes. We need teachers who nurture our students at schools and even build important relationships in their lives. Instead, teachers in cities across the country are picketing demanding better wages and safe conditions. The way we treat our teachers needs to be aligned with the promise of a fair education for our children. If we decide that teachers are the best solution for a good education for all children, then young workers will be prepared for our future economy.

CONCLUSION While Dr. King insisted that education was the great equalizer, he could not have imagined how true that is today, when very basic skill sets can drive an economy. We live in a world where education can be a skill set easily learned, and a lifetime of economic equality can be restored. We need to decide where we go from here in our efforts to educate children equally and if we intend on creating a workforce for a new economy. We are a country wrecked by dysfunction and hate; with an antiquated education system that befits a divided country. We need to decide that innovation and diversity are the keys to our future. Ablaze in a silent civil unrest, with school shootings prompting “active shooter� drills, our students are afraid in their own schools. The young people of Parkland High School in Florida inspire us; they are showing the moral leadership that will lead us out of the prejudicial divides that set us back, not forward. 57

THE PROMISE OF EDUCATION We need to understand that education is a holistic approach to growing a child into a healthy cog in our enormous economic wheel. We need mentors, guidance counselors and volunteers to help grow a generation of students in a country that pits one against another. Fifty years after the death of Dr. King, we are still in a segregated society. We are now not only segregated but we’re poor in education, poor in technology, poor in tolerance and poor in heart. These are not the ingredients of a great country. The promise of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka took almost 20 years to implement, and only advanced another 10 to 15 years before it declined in the '80s. Segregation has been on the rise, with an “us versus them” mentality canvassing our country. Bastions of educated elite hide from the other half that demand diverse and equal rights. More free college tuition is beginning and education as a right not a privilege is winding its way into the fabric of America. The private sector, driven by social media and activists on the internet, is opening the doors of education for all. There is a long way to go, not only in equal education, but in seeing classrooms of equal color. There is no decoupling race and education, and we need to take a two-pronged approach on bringing them together. An uneducated, divided nation will not lead to a strong, diverse economy. It will hold back the hands of time and will leave this country unprepared for the 21st century economy.




PA N E L R E C O M M E N DAT I O N S Invest in early childhood support and homes and the caregivers who are essential to the first three years of a child’s education and well-being. If our classrooms mirror the student body color, we will see an attachment which will lead to better education; children simply learn better when they see teachers that look like them. If Black students are offered paid internships on Wall Street, we will see more color in the rank and file of financial institutions. Take a holistic approach to preparing our children for the future of the country and for our diverse economy.

QUESTIONS  Will you become a teacher and a mentor; a valuable role model to children who need one?  Are there community centers and afterschool programs that you can participate in or support?  Can you get involved in campaigns for new leaders and help elected officials pass legislation to fund pre-kindergarten and support for the most formative years?  Will you be part of a coalition that succeeds in offering free college education for all, including technology and trade schools? 59






VOICES As part of The National Civil Rights Museum’s commemorative activities surrounding Dr. King’s life and legacy, we brought together social justice thought leaders and practitioners to share their insights. We encouraged these scholars to link the evolution of Dr. King’s philosophy and how it influenced movements nationally and internationally; grassroots organizing past and present. Writers were encouraged to correlate historical with present on themes central to Dr. King’s commitment to social justice and racial equality, including voting rights, education, employment, housing, nonviolence and poverty.



WHERE THERE’S A WILL, THERE’S A WAY BY KARLYN FORNER On January 2, 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood in front of a crowd of 700 people, packed into the pews of Brown Chapel AME Church in Selma, Alabama. “Today marks the beginning of a determined, organized, mobilized campaign to get the right to vote everywhere in Alabama,” he declared from the pulpit. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) had been looking for a place to stage its push for national voting rights legislation, and Black Selmians’ long history of organizing around the vote and economic self-sufficiency made it a perfect location. Voting rights had always been about power to Black southerners. S.W. and Amelia Boynton had first come to Dallas County as Black agricultural extension agents in the years before the Great Depression. Most Black farmers worked as tenants, bound in unfair contracts with White landowners that left them producing cotton all year long and never breaking even. Intimidation and violence kept them in their place. Although Black people made up the majority of the population in the Black Belt, Alabama’s 1901 Constitution had deliberately excised them from the voting rolls, leaving all political power in the hands of Whites. The wrongs the Boynton’s encountered along the dusty backroads convinced them that only land ownership and voting rights could make life better for Black people. They revitalized the Dallas County Voters League (DCVL) to do this work.



VOICES As the Civil Rights Movement gained traction in the 1950s, the Boyntons saw a way to draw attention to their local struggle. The DCVL invited the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which had been organizing for voting rights in Southwest Georgia and the Mississippi Delta, to set up a voter registration project in Selma. SNCC organizers Bernard Lafayette and Colia Liddell recruited Black teenagers from Selma’s R.B. Hudson High School and kicked off a movement. When White intransigence stalled SNCC’s efforts a year-and-a-half later, Amelia Boynton personally invited Dr. King and SCLC to stage its nationally geared push for voting rights in Selma. The celebrated story of Selma’s voting rights campaign is well known and has become a pivotal moment in the narrative of American democracy. Dr. King organized a campaign for voting rights. Black Selmians marched. The overtly racist Sheriff Jim Clark and his posse resisted. White state troopers brutally beat nonviolent Black marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday. The nation was outraged. Protesters marched 50 miles to Montgomery where Dr. King declared, “The arc of the moral universe is long and it bends towards justice.” Then-president Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, securing justice for all. Of course, the true story is not so neat and does not have a happy ending. National voting rights legislation passed but much work remained to get what Joanne Bland, an 11-year-old participant in the Selma campaign and later director of the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute, called the “good freedom.” This freedom included meaningful political power, living wages, quality education, sturdy housing, clean water, security and self-determination. Dr. King understood that the political victory in Selma was only the beginning of the fight for justice, humanity and equality. That brought him to Chicago to fight for fair housing. It led to the Poor People’s


VOICES Campaign in 1968. “We are going to Washington to say that if a man does not have a job or an income at that moment, you deprive him of life. You deprive him of liberty. And you deprive him of the pursuit of happiness,” King explained. “We are going to demand that America live up to her promise.”1 But Black Americans, long and simultaneous fight for economic justice rarely makes it into the triumphant story of voting rights. Black Selmians secured their political rights at the tail end of an agricultural revolution in the Alabama Black Belt. Since the New Deal, millions of federal dollars had gone to White landowners to take their land out of production. Cattle had taken over the cotton fields, and Black tenants were left jobless and homeless. Meanwhile, White businessmen and politicians had actively recruited low-wage, anti-union industries to Selma in an effort to preserve the racial status quo. That policy became a liability in the 1970s as globalization siphoned those jobs overseas, while the rising Sun Belt South rewarded urban places that were home to educated and skilled workers. The federal government only made the situation worse when it closed Selma’s air force base in 1977 at the same time it was cutting social programs and other funding for rural America. After 1965, Black people tried everything they could to bring about the “good freedom” in the bleak economic landscape of the Alabama Black Belt. They formed independent Black-led political parties. They joined labor unions and struck for living wages. They organized the Southwest Alabama Farmers Cooperative Association so that Black farmers could grow and sell their own produce and be self-sufficient on their land. They ran for and won political office. They established a Black-owned law firm that repeatedly sued local governments to secure equal representation. They protested racial tracking in the city’s public schools.



VOICES But voting rights don’t buy much in the places that have been left behind by globalization and government cutbacks. That fight for economic justice continues 50 years later. “We are going to demand what is ours and, my friends, the resources are here in America,” Dr. King declared in front of New York City union workers in 1968, “The question is whether the will is here.” 1 Martin Luther King, Jr., “Other America,” Delivered at the Local 1199’s “Salute to Freedom,” New York, New York, March 10, 1968, in The Racial King, edited by Cornel West (Boston: Beacon Press, 2017), 235-244.

A BO U T K A R LY N F O R N E R Kalyn Forner is Project Manager of the SNCC Digital Gateway at Duke University Libraries. In her new book, Why the Vote Wasn’t Enough for Selma, she rewrites the heralded story of Selma to show why gaining the vote did not lead to economic justice for African-Americans in the Alabama Black Belt.



WHAT WOULD KING DO? LEARNING FROM KING’S APPROACH TO BLACK POWER BY ASHLEY FARMER By 1966, calls for “Black Power” electrified the nation. In the preceding year alone, Black Americans had witnessed the assassination of Malcolm X, riots in Watts, the Black section of Los Angeles, and the shooting of civil rights activist James Meredith during his attempt to march from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson, Mississippi, to promote Black voter registration. This sustained violence led many Black Americans to embrace “Black Power” — or calls for Black community control, selfdetermination and self-defense. The slogan became so popular that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. felt compelled to address it publicly. It was no secret that King did not like the phrase. In October 1966, he claimed that the slogan was “an unwise choice” that had become “dangerous and injurious.”1 Despite this condemnation, he could not ignore the importance of Black Power to Black political life. In that same speech,



VOICES King also attested to the diversity and promise of the philosophy, indicating the potential of Black Power to ameliorate the dreadful socio-economic conditions impacting Black lives. King admitted that he could “not simply condemn [the] new concept,” as “this new mood ha[d] arisen from real, not imaginary causes.” The Reverend noted that the appeal of Black Power was not “limited to the few who use[d] it to justify violence.” Rather it was the manifestation of the frustration and anger of Black Americans who found that the “extravagant promises” of the federal government had been had become little more than a “shattered mockery.” King was speaking of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act — both of which had failed to assure government-enforced desegregation and Black voting protections. He was also attesting to the fact that “ghettos, unemployment, housing discrimination and slum schools,” still characterized Black life in America. This dehumanization and degradation, King argued, had led many to embrace Black Power as “‘White Power’ had left them empty handed.”² The civil rights leader’s efforts to correct common misperceptions of Black Power was a testament to the multi-faceted movement that was unfolding around him. As King noted, Black Power “in its extremist sense [was] supported by but a tiny minority.” More often than not, activists interpreted it as a way to “urge acquisition of political power” and foster other forms of Black autonomy. During the 1960s and 1970s, activists like Gloria Richardson combined sit-ins and boycotts with armed selfdefense in an effort to achieve Black equality and autonomy in her hometown of Cambridge, Maryland. Others like Brenda Habia Karenga and Dorothy Jamal attempted to combat White cultural domination by helping to create the US Organization, a Los Angeles-based cultural nationalist group that advocated for Black cultural reclamation as a precursor to political revolution. The same year that King spoke out about Black Power


VOICES saw activists challenge White supremacy with the ballot and the bullet through the national debut of the original Black Panther Party in Lowndes County, Alabama, and the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in Oakland, California, which Huey Newton and Bobby Seale created. Black artists and activists, including Amina Baraka, fused art, education and community control through the African Free School, an independent educational institution in New Jersey.3 If, as King argued, “White Power” was pervasive, then Black Power activists developed multi-faceted solutions to it. This same diversity of organizing is apparent in the Black Lives Matter Movement today. Activists across class, gender and regional backgrounds work to “end the criminalization, incarceration and killing Black people,” develop “independent Black political power,” demand “economic justice,” and put the Black community in control of “laws, institutions and policies that are meant to serve them.”4 Black Lives Matter organizers also make efforts to be inclusive and diverse, learning from the mistakes of previous civil rights organizations that marginalized or completely excluded women, queer and poor people from their leadership, and sometimes even their ranks, in the 1960s. King’s approach to Black Power is instructive for celebrating the plurality of Black thought and activism today. He simultaneously disagreed with the goals and tactics of Black Power activists and attested to the allure and promise of the philosophy. Most importantly, he found it counterproductive to condemn those who championed opposing beliefs and goals. He discouraged “established” leaders from “denounce[ing] Black Power advocates,” arguing that wholesale dismissal of their ideas and perspectives would lead down a “road of disaster for all.”5 A true commemoration of King requires that we recall and appreciate the complexity of his political positions, rather than sanitized or soundbite



VOICES versions of his speeches. This includes reflecting on the nuances of his approaches to nonviolence and direct action, as well as those strategies and slogans with which he did not always agree. Dr. King was a student of Black struggle and liberation, constantly examining his beliefs and those of organizers around him. This model of careful consideration and appreciation for diverse interpretations of Black liberation is a crucial part of his legacy that we should continue to cultivate today.  r. Martin Luther King, Jr. “It Is Not Enough to Condemn Black Power….” October 1966. The King D Center Archive, Atlanta, Georgia. 2 Ibid. 3  For more information see: Rhonda Y. Williams, Concrete Demands: The Search for Black Power in the 20th Century (New York: Routledge, 2015); Ashley D. Farmer, Remaking Black Power: How Black Women Transformed an Era (Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 2017) 4 Movement for Black Lives, “Platform,” 5 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “It Is Not Enough to Condemn Black Power….” 1

A BO U T A S H L E Y FA R M E R Ashley Farmer is a historian of African-American women’s history. Her research interests include women’s history, gender history, radical politics, intellectual history and Black feminism. Her first book, Remaking Black Power: How Black Women Transformed an Era, analyzes AfricanAmerican women’s intellectual production to uncover how they shaped gender constructs and political organizing in the Black power movement. She earned a B.A. in French from Spelman College, an M.A. in History from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in African American Studies from Harvard University. Dr. Farmer is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of History and the African American Studies Program at Boston University. 


VOICES THE LEGACY OF KING’S INFLUENCE FROM BLACK POWER TO BLACK LIVES MATTER BY JAKOBI WILLIAMS Several political and media pundits have drawn parallels between activists of the Black Power movement of the 1960s and the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement of today. However, few have included the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s influence upon and connection to both periods of struggle as the foundation of the bond that links the two movements. These connections are both obvious and obscure, and appear in examples that not only align with King’s ideology but also in examples that seem to be at odds with it. Dr. King was an agitator and a radical who demonstrated how to be disruptive in the struggle for racial and social justice. Separate this factor from King romanticism and we find his influence in numerous campaigns. In his 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail, Dr. King wrote, “An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and willingly accepts the penalty by staying in jail to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the very highest respect for the law.” It is in this respect that the most popular Black Power group, the Black Panther Party (BPP) and Black Lives Matter activists are intricately linked to Dr. King’s legacy. King’s social movement awakened a succession of social protests that produced a new generation of leader, even transforming street gangs into youthful political organizations. For instance, the notorious Chicago south side street gang, Blackstone Rangers, joined King’s nonviolent Chicago Freedom Movement campaign in 1966. During a King-led march through Chicago’s White racist southwest side community of Gage Park, the street youth brought



VOICES baseball gloves that they used to catch bricks thrown at Dr. King by White mobs, and protected King and marchers as they returned to demonstration’s staging area. The Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party grew out of the Chicago Freedom movement as some of the chapter’s leaders and members participated in the King led demonstrations and workshops in Chicago. In 1969, the Panthers held a press conference in Chicago to commemorate the one-year anniversary of King’s assassination and to announce the creation of the original Rainbow Coalition, which was made up of the BPP, the Young Patriots (Confederate-flag-wearing southern Whites), the Young Lords (Puerto-Rican youth) and Rising Up Angry (White student leftists). The Rainbow Coalition advocated solidarity among poor and oppressed people who were determined to eradicate capitalism and its divisive forces that pitted such folks against one another. Panthers such as Fred Hampton eclipsed one of King’s accomplishments by forging coalitions with a segment of society (Confederate-flag-wearing southern Whites) that was antithetical to the civil rights movement. The Black Panther Party’s grassroots organizing reflected the core components of King’s legacy and philosophical approach to change.  The Panther’s survival program’s (community service programs that the party hoped would ensure Black people’s survival pending revolution) were designed to eliminate the profit motive from the daily human necessities that people need to survive. All of their programs provided free services and the Panthers advanced their program’s selfdetermination resources as pragmatic and realistic. Essentially, the Panther’s programs and the original Rainbow Coalition — a merger of poor people that included poor southern Whites, various Latino groups, Native Americans, Asian American as well as labor and student groups — were the epitome of King’s Poor People Campaign.  


VOICES The political and economic problems that impacted poor Black and oppressed communities during King’s life are just as present today. The levels of poverty mirror those in 1968; and right-wing politicians are erecting obstacles to prevent equality, inclusion and in many cases survival of those most in need. As an affront to such a crisis, Dr. King advanced his Poor People’s Campaign and poor and oppressed folks across the racial divide and spectrum heeded his call to action in 1968.  Today’s activists have sought not to look to King for romanticism but rather to inform them of how to deal with those in power that literally threaten our existence. As an activist scholar, I have worked with numerous grassroots groups over the years. However, only one exemplifies the entirety of King as he is generally understood. The New Poor People’s Campaign led by Reverend William Barber, Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis and the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice was established to foster a revolution of values and a new moral movement in America.  Tens of thousands of people across the country are united and engaged in direct action at statehouses and the U.S. capitol to eradicate extremists who stand against voting rights, living wages, health care and immigration reform. King’s legacy is also present in the current labor disputes taking place across the country. In March 1968, King gave a speech in Memphis, at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 1733. King told the striking sanitation workers to, “Never forget that freedom is not something that is voluntarily given by the oppressor. It is something that must be demanded by the oppressed. Freedom is not some lavish dish that the power structure and the White forces in policy-making positions will voluntarily hand out on a silver platter while the Negro merely furnishes the appetite. If we are going to get equality, if we are going to get



VOICES adequate wages, we are going to have to struggle for it.” In their fight for $15 an hour and a living wage, thousands of fast food workers in hundreds of cities over the past several years have hit the streets to strike and demand decent livable wages and advocate against numerous other workplace inequalities. These activists have regularly cited, chanted and advertised King’s slogans and quotations during their campaigns. Similar to the King led civil rights movement, women are the backbone of the current movement for Black lives in terms of organizing and solidifying the movement. The major difference being that today women ARE the leaders. A queer, Black, radical, feminist, framework is at the forefront of the Black Lives Matter movement. King’s legacy can be found in the defiance, grassroots organizing and nonviolent direct actions of the numerous BLM networks (nationally and globally) that dominate the 24-hour news cycle and most social media platforms.   By utilizing social media and technology, BLM activists (like King in the 1960s and media representations) are able to highlight contradictions in social justice appeals to people’s consciences. Like King, BLM has changed the conversations at the national level about justice and are active in the struggle to change systems and structures of oppression in America. Due to the unrelenting campaigns of the BLM networks, the state, like it has done in the past during the King years, has initiated a program to terminate dissent and neutralize all those activists fighting on behalf of Black and other oppressed groups.  In 2017, the FBI’s counterterrorism division issued a 10-page report entitled “Black Identity Extremists Likely Motivated to Target Law Enforcement Officers.” The report essentially targets BLM activists and those who agitate against police brutality, inequality in criminal justice and lack of inclusion as enemies of the state. Today’s FBI label, “Black


VOICES Identity Extremists,” mirrors the illegal FBI counter intelligence program (COINTELPRO) and Racial Matters Squad of the King years. Both groups targeted King, Fred Hampton and others for assassination and repressed all activists and groups of the period that challenged state repression.   This unfortunate legacy of the King years is a lesson for BLM, the New Poor People’s Campaign and all others in struggles against the repressive regime of the current executive branch of the U.S. government. In the nation’s capital in 1959, King demanded all of us who seek justice and equity to press on in the face of such government tyranny. “Make a career of humanity, commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights, you will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country and a finer world to live in.” Now more than ever is the time to utilize King’s influence in our protracted struggle against the White supremacist forces in power that hold our nation hostage.

ABOUT JAKOBI WILLIAMS Jakobi Williams is Associate Professor in the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies and the Department of History at Indiana University-Bloomington. Dr. Williams earned his B.A. from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of California at Los Angeles. He specializes in African-American history and has an expertise in Civil Rights/Black Power Movements and Chicago history/politics. Williams is a recipient of the National Endowment for the Humanities grant, the National Humanities Center fellowship and the Big Ten Academic Alliance-Academic Leadership Program fellowship. He is the 76


VOICES author of From the Bullet to the Ballot: The Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party and Racial Coalition Politics in Chicago published in 2013 by the University of North Carolina Press. Dr. Williams is presently finalizing two monographs tentatively titled, Neighborhoods First: The Black Panther Party’s Impact on Non-Black Grassroots Community Organizations and Global Call of Power to the People: The Transnational Emulation of the Black Panther Party by Non-Black Organizations Abroad and Beyond. 

A B O U T W I L L I A M S ’ B O O K FROM THE BULLET TO THE BALLOT “One of the most significant, exhaustively researched and conceptually sophisticated studies that I have read in quite some time. . . His book is first rate.”  — Darlene Clark Hine, Northwestern University “Williams has given us a brilliant study of the anatomy of grassroots organizing across race . . . From the Bullet to the Ballot  . . . will compel all Panther scholars to rethink or readjust the national narrative.” — Robin D. G. Kelley, University of California at Los Angeles “Williams’ account will compel subsequent historians to avoid simplistic generalizations distinguishing between the civil rights era and the Black power era.”  — Clayborne Carson, Stanford University.



MARTIN LUTHER KING JR., AND THE BLACK ATHLETE PROTEST TRADITION BY LOUIS MOORE Hank Aaron knew he needed to step up to the plate. By 1966, thousands of Black men and women his age had risked their lives fighting in the Civil Rights Movement. And high-profile athletes like Jackie Robinson, Wilma Rudolph and Bill Russell had gotten their hands dirty too. True, in Milwaukee he pushed the Braves to integrate their spring training facilities in Florida, but outside of his battles in baseball, the first Black superstar to ply his trade in the South had been safe. It was his turn now. The concerned Atlanta athletic hero went to the source, the other hero of Atlanta, Martin Luther King, Jr., to see what he could do. Certainly, King had a role for him. But King wanted nothing from Aaron. He only asked that Aaron, who played for a team that recently relocated from Milwaukee to Atlanta as part of the city’s move to showcase Atlanta represented a modern post-Jim Crow new South, continue to be excellent. In short, his presence, play and personality proved integration would work in the New South. 78


VOICES King understood the power of sports, and he believed that the Black athlete had a role to play in redeeming the soul of America. On the one hand, he thought successful Black athletes who publicly persevered on the field of play, displaying athletic success and affable personalities, helped the cause by serving as nonviolent symbols of successful integration. The Reverend reportedly told a reporter in 1963, “I wish that I had a lot more time for sports. You people in sports have done a great job in giving the Negro equal rights, and you have achieved that without bloodshed.”1 But five years later, there King was, sitting with Harry Edwards and John Carlos in New York, supporting a proposed boycott of Black athletes of the 1968 Olympics. He learned that Black excellence was not enough. He told Carlos, “We’re not saying ‘burn it down.’ We’re just merely saying we don’t care to participate and see how you feel without us as part of the show.”2 What changed? Black athletes changed. And they brought King with them. Although by the late 1960s, Black athletes gained more and more opportunities in sports, democracy in society sagged behind. Simply being barrier breakers who represented the race would no longer due. So, they revolted from the system. These athletes pushed King to see that Black athletes could play a dual role in the fight for equality; they could be symbols of equality and powerful weapons to fight inequality.  Although pundits like to characterize the civil rights movement as an intense moment of athlete activists, most Black athletes avoided protests and continued to fight with their play. As Willie Mays said, “The Rev. Martin Luther King can’t play baseball, so he doesn’t try. Now how would I look trying to preach to people? I try to do my best with in my abilities and I think I’ve helped my people. I don’t criticize the movement, person or action because I’m no statesman man. I am only a ball player.”3 But that was not fighting; not according to someone like Jackie Robinson. That was being content. When asked by a reporter in 1964 79

VOICES why more Black athletes don’t participate in the civil rights movement, Robinson answered, “Many of them think they have it made. But they don’t have it made until the lowest Negro has it made.”4 Robinson was the first Black athlete in Post-World War II America to shatter the mold of the barrier breaker. In short, he refused to stick to playing sports. He knew that despite the rhetoric of democracy that newspapers spouted whenever a Black athlete integrated a sport, or played in the South against White opponents, or simply succeeded, sports would not save society. Because of their status, Black athletes would have to actively engage in the fight for civil rights off the field. Robinson’s success on the baseball field, and his activism off the diamond, helped King see the power of the Black athlete in the battle for civil rights. In a public letter in 1962 congratulating Robinson on his enshrinement into the baseball Hall of Fame, King wrote, “Jackie Robinson has stood as a stalwart against segregation and discrimination North and South,” and pointed out, “In the North, Jackie Robinson has fought constantly to expose hypocrisy in northern school systems, dishonestly and deprivation in northern housing.” He closed his letter observing, “He was a sit-inner before the sit-ins, a freedom rider before the freedom rides.”5 In this passage, King makes clear that Robinson’s role as a barrier breaker in baseball, often isolated, and constantly facing racist vitriol, proceeded the sit-ins and freedom rides, giving an inspirational example of the nonviolent courage needed to defeat racism. But by examining Black athletes’ reflections on the civil rights movement, specifically their disillusionment with integrationist nonviolence politics, one can feel the change that was coming. While Robinson continued to embrace King’s integrationist philosophy, men like Jim Brown, Bill Russell and Curt Flood openly suggested that King was too tame in his approach.



VOICES Brown, in fact, estimated that at least 99 percent of Black America agreed with the Nation of Islam (NOI), and “the White man had better start trying to understand him.”6 These athletes learned that their status did nothing for other Black people. As Brown once said, “I may very well make more money this year than any Negro athlete in the world, yet I want just as deeply as the poorest sharecropper to be a free man.”7 A revolt was coming, and Muhammad Ali was the first to break away. Ali saw the flaw in integration. He knew civil rights would not end structural inequalities. To that end, he joined the NOI, and promoted a separatist Black pride philosophy. This drew the ire of King. In 1964, after Ali officially announced his affiliation with the NOI, King went on the attack. King claimed, “When Cassius Clay joined the Black Muslims and started calling himself Cassius X, he became the champion of racial segregation — and that is what we are fighting.” King asked Ali to shut up and play, and urged, “I think Cassius should spend more time proving his boxing skill and do less talking.”8 But Ali saw the celebration of the Black athletes for what it was; a token gesture without meaningful change. As he once pointedly stated, “I’ve heard over and over, how come I couldn’t be like Joe Louis and Sugar Ray. Well, they’re gone now, and the Black man’s condition is just the same. Ain’t it? We still catching hell.”9 And it was precisely because he knew that Black Americans caught hell that Ali refused induction into the military in 1967. Ali’s bold stance on the Vietnam War, however, helped King sharpen his critique of the war and courageously denounce the invasion. Three years after criticizing Ali, King praised the people’s champion for his courage, commenting, “He is giving up even fame. He is giving up millions of dollars in order to stand up for what his conscience tells him is right.” Moreover, Ali’s revolt from the system inspired other Black athletes. Between 1967 and 1968, for example, Black athletes on at least 35


VOICES college campuses protested continued racism in their sport and at their school. Most notably, Black college athletes voted to boycott the 1968 Olympics, citing continued racism in society, and the government’s treatment of Ali, as two of their reasons for refusing to participate. And King, understanding the power of the Black athlete protest, helped these athletes articulate their struggle and demands. Although most Black athletes did not boycott the Games, they agreed to use their Olympic platform to protest American racism, including John Carlos and Tommie Smith who raised their fists in the air during the playing of the National Anthem to raise awareness of the oppression of Black people. Fifty years later, after a long hiatus from activism, Black athletes are once again using their platforms to fight injustice in America. Today, athletes like Colin Kaepernick and Maya Moore are fighting to reform the criminal justice system. Knowing that King evolved on his thinking on Black athletes, it is safe to say that he would have supported today’s Black athletes. King understood Black athletes created the necessary drama to get Americans talking about racism and structural inequalities. And Kaepernick did just that when he took a knee during the National Anthem. But we also know this to be true: King would have continued to push these millionaire athletes to sharpen their critiques of capitalism, the sports industry and their impact on Black America. King would see the billions of public dollars spent on building private stadiums and arenas for billionaire owners and question the morals of America. In short, he would force Black athletes to take a knee with him.



VOICES Thomas G. Smith, Showdown: JFK and the Integration of the Washington Redskins (New York: Beacon Press, 2012); 113. John Carlos with Dave Zirin, The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment that Changed the World (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2011), 82. 3 Bobbie Barbee, “Wouldn’t Want Kin to be Pro Athletes, Admits Mays,” Jet Vol. 27 (1) (8 October 1964); 54. 4 “Robinson ‘Pities’ Clay, But Hits Standpatters,” Memphis World, March 14, 1968. 5 Martin Luther King, Jr., “Hall of Famer,” New York Amsterdam News, August 4, 1962. 6 Myron Cope, “Jim Brown’s Own Story,” Look Vol. 28 (20) (6 October 1964); 75-76. 7 Ibid., 74. 8 “Westmoreland in U.S. to Hush Viet Critics: King,” Chicago Defender, May 1, 1967.  9 Thomas Hauser, Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1991), 103. 1


ABOUT LOUIS MOORE Louis Moore is an Associate Professor of History at Grand Valley State University and the Coordinator of their African American Studies program. He teaches African-American History, Civil Rights, Sports History and U.S. History. His research and writing examines the interconnections between race and sports. He is the author of two recently published books, I Fight for a Living: Boxing and the Battle for Black Manhood, 1880–1915 and We Will Win the Day: The Civil Rights Movement, the Black Athlete, and the Quest for Equality. He has also written for a number of online outlets including The Shadow League, Vox and Vocativ, and has appeared on news outlets including NPR, MSNBC and BBC Sports talking sports and race.



D R . K I N G ’ S D R E A M D E F E R R E D : P O V E R T Y, & E C O N O M I C HUMAN RIGHTS BY AMY NATHAN WRIGHT In May 1967, Dr. King announced to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), “We have moved from the era of civil rights to the era of human rights,” from a “reform movement,” into “an era of revolution.” In his final book, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, King described a multipronged approach to creating change that revolved around opposing the war in Vietnam, organizing workers through unions, mobilizing consumers through boycotts and combatting poverty across racial lines. King declared, “As we work to get rid of the economic strangulation that we face as a result of poverty, we must not overlook the fact that millions of Puerto Ricans, Mexican Americans, Indians and Appalachian Whites are also poverty-stricken.” The seeds for SCLC’s most concentrated and sustained effort to combat poverty — the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign — were sown. But King’s first-hand experiences in both rural and urban areas in the U.S. had already informed a longstanding commitment to economic human rights. 



VOICES King’s position on poverty and economic inequality, which was influenced by early childhood experiences, such as witnessing Great Depression-era soup lines and working on a Connecticut tobacco farm, was very much grounded in his devotion to the Christian concept of a “beloved community.” In an 1956 sermon, “Paul’s Letter to American Christians,” King proclaims, “God never intended for a group of people to live in superfluous inordinate wealth while others live in abject, deadening poverty. God intends for all of His children to have the basic necessities of life, and He has left in this universe enough and to spare for that purpose. So I call upon you to bridge the gulf between abject poverty and superfluous wealth.” King didn’t just preach an anti-poverty message; he bore witness to its devastating effects and encouraged others to do the same. From the Montgomery Bus Boycott to his assassination while working on the Memphis Sanitation Worker’s Strike just prior to the launch of the Poor People’s Campaign, King pursued the “dual agenda” of civil and economic rights. In his 1957 book, Stride Toward Freedom, King declared that while the nonviolent struggle would help “end the demoralization,” a “new frontal assault on poverty” would “make victory more certain.” Thomas R. Peake explains that during that summer he urged U.S. Vice President Richard M. Nixon and Secretary of Labor Secretary James P. Mitchell to travel throughout the South to witness the worsening poverty and to provide increased federal aid for the poor. Even some of King’s landmark speeches include pointed critiques of capitalism and passionate calls to end poverty. In his 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” King decries that “the vast majority” of Blacks were “smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society.” And while the media typically strips the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and King’s “I Have a Dream” speech of their economic agendas, he clearly proclaims, “The 85

VOICES Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity,” and reminds his audience of the March’s purpose “to dramatize” this “appalling condition.” In his 1964 book, Why We Can’t Wait, King produces solutions, proposing “a broad-based and gigantic Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged” patterned after the G.I. Bill, as well as full employment, a living wage and a guaranteed income. King also called for creative solutions for “neutralizing the perils of automation,” demonstrating that he had a stronger grasp of the economy and its future than current politicians. King’s personal commitment deepened during the summer of 1966 after spending months living in an urban slum and leading an anti-housing discrimination campaign in Chicago and then visiting Marks, Mississippi, a tiny town in the Delta. After witnessing a teacher quarter an apple to feed four hungry students, King uncharacteristically broke into tears and told his chief lieutenant Rev. Ralph David Abernathy, “I can’t get those children out of my mind . . . We’ve got to do something for them . . . We can’t let that kind of poverty exist in this country.” NAACP attorney and long-time friend, Marian Wright Edelman, having led U.S. politicians on poverty tours through the South that summer, persuaded King to embrace former U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s suggestion to “bring the poor people to Washington.” And with that, the Poor People’s Campaign (PPC) was born.   During the tumultuous summer of 1968, a racially, geographically and politically diverse group of over 3,000 poor people and their allies traveled in nine regional caravans to the nation’s capital where they built a temporary city on the National Mall. Participants lived for six weeks in small, wooden, A-frame structures in their shantytown dubbed Resurrection City. They organized daily protests at a wide range of government offices to advocate for the multiracial poor’s diverse



VOICES needs, presenting government officials with a long list of evolving demands. Yet the PPC consistently fought for guaranteed jobs or income — a common demand that spanned the spectrum of Black Freedom Struggle activists, from A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin’s “Freedom Budget” to the Black Panther Party’s “10-Point Platform.” The mainstream media and far too many scholars have habitually ignored or maligned the PPC as King’s “last crusade,” but more recently, its lasting influence has gained increased recognition. There was a follow up to the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign that included the establishment of a Poor People’s Embassy and an attempt to repeat the Campaign in 1969. Marian Wright Edelman founded the Children’s Defense Fund in 1973 and has remained the nation’s fiercest anti-poverty activist and lobbyist. The Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign (PPEHRC) formed in 1998 and has led campaigns on the PPC’s anniversaries and at national political conventions. More recently, in 2011, Cornel West and Tavis Smiley led “The Poverty Tour: A Call to Conscience,” and there is evidence that Dr. King’s final campaign inspired the original call that led to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Despite these efforts, poverty and economic inequality top the civil rights movement’s list of “unfinished business.” While the poverty rate dropped from its first estimate in 1959 at 22.4 percent to a low of 11.1 percent in 1973, it has since risen, topping 15 percent during the mid-1980s, mid-1990s and in 2010 in the wake of the Great Recession. U.S. Census data from 2015 reported a poverty rate of 13.5 percent, with a total of “43.1 million poor people.” What’s more, one in three impoverished people were children, fully 20 percent of all children living in America. Despite these deeply troubling statistics, the Children’s Defense Fund reports that the Trump Administration’s


VOICES 2017 proposed budget “Slashes $610 billion over 10 years from Medicaid”; “Rips $5.7 billion from CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program)”; “Snatches food out of the mouths and stomachs of hungry children by slicing $193 billion over 10 years from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)”; “Chops $22 billion over ten years from TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program)”; “Whacks $72 billion over ten years from the Supplemental Security Income Program (SSI)”; and much more that will hurt our nation’s poor. In response, Rev. William J. Barber II, a leader in North Carolina’s Moral Monday crusade, called for “a new Poor People’s Campaign for Moral Revival to help us become the nation we’ve not yet been.” While there are a myriad of issues facing the nation, the question remains, will King’s dream continue to be deferred, or will we truly tackle the issue of persistent poverty in a nation of plenty?

ABOUT AMY WRIGHT Amy Nathan Wright is an Assistant Professor in the School of Humanities at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, where she teaches the Literature of the Black Freedom Struggle, as well as other interdisciplinary social justice courses on the history of marginalized groups and on contemporary social problems and the issues of identity in the U.S. She earned a B.A. in English as well as an M.A. and Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Wright is currently completing her manuscript, The Dream Deferred: Poverty, Race, and the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign.




THE HARBINGER OF HOUSING & HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE 21ST CENTURY BY RHONDA Y. WILLIAMS Wherever I turn, housing is. Obvious, you might say. But, I am not talking simply about housing in the most apparent sense of literal wood, steel, or brick-and-mortar structures — but housing as a rousing harbinger of dire and distressing realities. Profit over people, profoundly persistent racial and economic inequalities and a pervasive dearth of quality affordable shelter — a basic human right. Whether I am prepping to teach my new course on “Race, Rights, and the ‘American Dream’” that features Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun; or, watching the documentary Mr. Dynamite! on James Brown, who comments on vacant, boarded up and condemned houses in Black communities in 1960s’ New York, D.C. and Watts; or, driving through Cleveland and East Cleveland in Ohio, the Mississippi Delta, Baltimore in Maryland or the “It City” of Nashville, Tennessee, where gentrification is aggressively transforming the racial and economic character of neighborhoods and creating increasingly prohibitively priced enclaves — I cannot help but see that the issue of affordable, sanitary and decent housing in rural and urban communities is acute.


In cities, displacement, eviction and relocation — the cornerstones of mid-20th century urban renewal (often described as “Negro Removal”), redevelopment and highway policies — are not practices of the past. These practices are occurring in the 21st century, even if they sometimes look different. For instance, in Atlanta, the Peoplestown neighborhood, described as that city’s “last working-class Black neighborhood,” is being threatened by the municipal government’s use of eminent domain to take privately owned property for public use. A news article from The Guardian maintained that “this process is replicated throughout the U.S. If successful, eminent domain could become the newest tool that local and state governments could use to accelerate the gentrification and displacement that is already impacting low-income Black and Brown communities.”1 Sadly, this is not surprising, even if quite disconcerting, particularly for those whom Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have described as the “children of light” — people who believe in freedom; contest racism, poverty and materialism; and strive for equality, including in housing.2 It is absolutely crucial that people have places to live — that are not streets, homeless shelters, day-rental motels or otherwise substandard, transient, or exorbitantly priced housing. Even with that vital physical need met, we know that location, or where people live, also often impacts their access to schools, jobs, economic stability, safety and general wellbeing. The built environments that we construct, as well as how we invest in and develop their infrastructures, signal what and who we value and what and who we do not. History and contemporary conditions provide abundant evidence that what and who we value are indisputably influenced by race and socioeconomic class, both of which can affect not only whom we live next



to and where geographically we live, but also how we live. In what kind of neighborhoods (e.g., near highways, industrial plants, toxic dumps, or not)? With what resources and amenities (e.g., near grocery stores with fresh, nutritious foods, healthy restaurants, parks and cultural institutions, or not)? And, with what kinds of opportunities and life chances? Dr. King and others understood this. Indeed, a confidential first draft of a press release addressed to the president, Congress and Supreme Court of the U.S. and dated February 6, 1968, speaks to Dr. King’s hopes for an “Economic and Social Bill of Rights” that included, “The right of a decent house and the free choice of neighborhood.”3 In order to help achieve this, the Poor People’s Campaign called on the federal government to construct “500,000 low-cost housing units per year until slums were eliminated.”4  In this way and others, King advocated and defended the human rights of the most marginalized and exploited people in the U.S., no matter their race. While the provision of housing has been included as part of the international right to an adequate standard of living under Article 25 of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights since 1948 and under Article 11 of the U.N. General Assembly’s International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights since 1966, it is not, yet, a 21st century reality.5 We still live in a society, country and world that overwhelmingly protect, seemingly at all costs, capital and profit over human and planetary well-being. This is not by happenstance, but by design. Just some 50 years ago, in Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, Dr. King exhorted that the “children of light” must continue to proactively fight “structures of evil,” accompany their appeals with “constructive coercive power,” and engage in creative dissent.6


King prophetically warned (or simply realistically assessed) that “the children of darkness,” such as those seeking “to preserve segregation and tyranny,” were “always zealous and conscientious in using time for their evil purposes.” For example, he wrote, “If they want to defeat a fair housing bill, they don’t say to the public, ‘Be patient, wait on time and our cause will win.’ Rather, they use time to spend big money, to disseminate half-truths, to confuse the popular mind.”7 The warnings and truths are many. In Where Do We Go from Here, Dr. King also warned that, “Housing is too important to be left to private enterprise with only minor government effort to shape policy.”8 And, demonstrating a keen awareness that politicians and policymakers also often fall short of providing directly the scale of affordable and decent housing needed, King wrote: “Housing measures have fluctuated at the whims of legislative bodies. They have been piecemeal and pygmy.”9 This 20th century fact — applicable to both political parties — still registers true in the 21st century. Today, as we encounter the issue of housing at every turn, we serve as witnesses to, at minimum, the overwhelming evidence of enduring structural inequalities and, at most, state violence against non-rich and disproportionately non-White people. The 2017 Republican Tax Bill is a noteworthy example. It is a reprehensible political act of aggravated economic theft. Even as programmatic funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development is being cut, low-income housing is continuously being demolished and affordable housing for working-class and poor people



is not being built in near enough quantity to meet demand, the 2017 Tax Bill promises to give already wealthy people, including real estate developers, like the 45th President, tax breaks. Such examples of structural inequality and state violence — generally and specifically with regard to housing — are legion, and have even deeper roots than this most recent example of political and financial cruelty. For instance, let’s consider five major categories that can help unmask these as it relates to housing: ACCESS. Who has access to land, or (what kind of) shelter in urban and rural communities, or (what types of) resources to pay escalating rents, mortgages and property taxes? POLICIES. The history of housing policies and programs is mixed.10 Think about the racially discriminatory policies supported by government, such as redlining, restrictive covenants, FHA and VA mortgage programs and suburban housing that excluded Black residents. Think about the demise of rent control, and tenant-landlord laws that overwhelmingly favor landlords. Think about the late 20th-century dismantling of direct government provision of low-income housing, while simultaneously advancing tax-payer funded, neoliberal, private market real estate developments that too often resulted in displacing, isolating, or bulldozing low-income and/or racially marginalized communities to construct stadiums, convention centers, highways, luxury housing, or new urban playgrounds for the wealthy or economically well-heeled. FUNDING. Think about government cuts of already meagerly resourced social programs, and insufficient funding for quality public housing and affordable housing programs.


GOVERNMENT REGULATIONS. While government regulations exist, the lack of enforcement, accountability and resources has resulted in failures to provide safe and healthy living conditions for some of the most vulnerable populations, including children, seniors and veterans. Think about lead poisoning, vermin infestations and toxic water. POLITICAL AND POLICY TERMINOLOGY. Often the terminology used can conceal actual intentional goals, discriminatory practices and unintentional repercussions. For instance, think about how (a) the push for “redevelopment” can mask gentrification; (b) the implementation of “mixed income housing” has endangered public housing and/or ushered in luxury housing, ultimately making neighborhoods unaffordable for working-class and low-income people; and (c) “discourses of disaster,” such as claims of God bringing Hurricane Katrina to cleanse New Orleans of its public housing, which sat on desirable land. These are just some of the stark truths that stare at us at every turn across this country, vanquish millions of people’s dreams and create unduly harsh realities. The catchphrase “I have a dream” is too often emptily proclaimed these days. Indeed, it has become a platitude. But, when Dr. King uttered it in 1963, it was not fanciful, apolitical reverie. It emerged as a response, a call and oppositional vision to counter the racism and poverty buttressed by people in power through the institutions, businesses, bank accounts and local, state and federal governmental entities that they controlled. Echoes of 1963 and 1967 in 2017. Let me end with this remark and call to action by Paulette Coleman, who chairs the Affordable Housing and Gentrification Task Force for



Nashville Organized for Action and Hope. At a recent meeting on Land Justice and the Right to Housing, hosted by the Peabody College at Vanderbilt University, Coleman said the following, thereby providing critical perspective on the city spending $623 million to build a convention center while only earmarking $10 million annually for four years (even if up from $500,000) for its affordable housing trust fund: “I have a dream that we will think it is as popular to solve homelessness and the housing problem, as it is to bring in and serve tourists.”11 Imagine that! And imagine, throughout society, a transformation of basic priorities that not only signals moral courage, but also results in an ethical recalibration of how public dollars are used, à la for efforts to advance human and planetary well-being, guided by everyday people of vision and conscience, who exercise constructive coercive power to make real housing as a human right.

“Gentrification Comes to Atlanta’s Last Working-Class Black Neighborhood,” Atlantic Black Star, November 10, 2017, reprinted from the U.S. version of the Guardian. In 1965, part of the Peoplestown and Summerhill communities were bulldozed to build the $18 million dollar Atlanta Stadium, and majority low-income Black communities in Atlanta again suffered similar fates with the construction of the Georgia Dome and Olympic Stadium in 1996. See, Winston A. Grady-Willis, Challenging U.S. Apartheid: Atlanta and Black Struggles for Human Rights, 19601977 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006), 115-116; Ronald H. Bayor, Race & the Shaping of Twentieth-Century Atlanta (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996), 255-260. 2 Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? (Boston: Beacon Press, 1967, 1994), 136. 3 “Economic and Social Bill of Rights,” February 6, 1968, The King Center, archive/document/economic-and-social-bill-rights# 4 New Poor People’s Campaign: A National Campaign for Moral Revival, “Dr. King’s Vision: The Poor People’s Campaign of 1967-68,” 5 For a resource, National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, “What is the Human Right to Housing?” 6 King, 136, 137, 142, respectively. 7 Ibid., 136. 8 Ibid., 214. 9 Ibid., 171. 1


See, for instance, Edward G. Goetz, New Deal Ruins: Race, Economic Justice, & Public Housing Policy (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013); Richard Rothstein, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America (New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2017); Rhonda Y. Williams, The Politics of Public Housing: Black Women’s Struggles Against Urban Inequality (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004). 11  “Land Justice and the Right to Housing,” October 27, 2017. For more information on NOAH and its “Affordable Housing and Gentrification Task Force,” see, affordablehousing problems and issues of identity in the United States. She earned a B.A. in English as well as an M.A. and Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Wright is currently completing her manuscript, “The Dream Deferred: Poverty, Race, and the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign.” 10 

A B O U T R H O N D A Y. W I L L I A M S Rhonda Y. Williams is Professor of History and the inaugural John L. Seigenthaler Chair in American History at Vanderbilt University. The founder and inaugural director of the Social Justice Institute at Case Western Reserve University, Williams is the author of the awardwinning The Politics of Public Housing: Black Women’s Struggles against Urban Inequality (2004) and Concrete Demands: The Search for Black Power in the 20th Century (2015). She has published numerous articles and essays, including the forthcoming book chapter titled “Women, Gender, Race, and the Welfare State” in the Oxford Handbook for Women’s and Gender History. Williams is also the co-editor of the book series Justice, Power, and Politics at the University of North Carolina Press and is co-editor of Teaching the American Civil Rights Movement. She is a native of Baltimore.



MARTIN LUTHER KING’S ‘CREATIVE MALADJUSTMENT’ RESONATES TODAY BY YOHURU WILLIAMS Seeking perspective on the current chaotic state of U.S. politics, I reread a powerful speech delivered 50 years ago by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in September 1967. King, who was delivering a keynote speech to the annual conference of the American Psychological Association, noted how psychologists had given the world the notion of maladjusted. “You have given us a great word,” he said, continuing: “There are some things in our society, some things in our world, to which we should never be adjusted.”  King argued that the powerful, in their efforts to maintain order, actually maintain inequality — tamping down social movements and ignoring the cries of the hopeless as they are expressed by urban unrest.  “We must never adjust ourselves to economic conditions that take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few,” King insisted. He called for “creative maladjustment,” wherein people refuse to normalize inequality and work continuously to expose injustice so that, “we may be able to emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man, into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice.”  He urged the academics in attendance to use their scholarship and influence to “tell it like it is.” He said they should produce works that assist in the redemption of an America “poisoned to its soul by racism.” He continued: “All too many White Americans are horrified not with conditions of Negro life but with the product of these conditions — the Negro himself.”  97

In our present context — the prevalent inequity in the suffering after Hurricanes Irma, Harvey and Maria, and the degenerate response from our country’s leader — King’s words command our attention. They link in a powerful way a seemingly disparate collection of social justice struggles, including removing Confederate Statues, Black Lives Matter, fighting for the rights of undocumented students, the plight of LGBTQ communities and preserving public education for students.  In an age when we can no longer depend on government officials to deliver on the promises of our founding principles, the call for creative maladjustment commits us to seek solutions outside the system while pressuring it to respond to legitimate demands.  As King conceptualized the problem, “I believe we will have to find the militant middle between riots on the one hand and weak and timid supplication for justice on the other hand.” For King, that middle ground was civil disobedience, which he argued could “be aggressive but nonviolent” with the power to “dislocate but not destroy.”  King’s ideas provide a call to arms for academics and activists in the 21st century — to find constructive points of conversation and also to use dislocation as a catalyst for social engagement that seeks new pathways to combating racism, economic inequality and oppression.  In late September, more than 200 academics produced a statement on the appalling conditions on Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, decrying the poor governmental response. The scholars state, “the destruction brought by Hurricane Maria has exposed the profound colonial condition of Puerto Rico, as millions of human beings are faced with a life or death situation.”  Crowdsourcing educational resources is another example. Widely shared and communally generated documents like the 2014 #FergusonSyllabus, a 98


set of resources for those seeking to confront and explain police violence against Black youth. The syllabus connected scholarship to music, art and culture and has been become a model for conversation and collaboration between scholars and activists. Creative maladjustment is a tall order, but it does provide an organizing idea around which to channel our efforts. As King explained to those gathered 50 years ago, “It is fashionable now to be pessimistic.” King was nevertheless hopeful.  “Undeniably, the freedom movement has encountered setbacks,” he admitted. “Yet I still believe there are significant aspects of progress.” His desire for scholarship that seized on chaos and disorder to provide forward-thinking solutions to racial prejudice, economic inequality and political alienation rooted in civil disobedience remains relevant. His words echo with powerful resonance in our own time.  This article was previously published in The Progressive’s “Martin Luther King’s Recently Discovered ‘Creative Maladjustment’ Speech Resonates Today.” ABOUT YOHURU WILLIAMS Yohuru Williams is Professor of History and Dean and McQuinn Distinguished Chair of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN. Dr. Williams earned his B.A. and M.A. from the University of Scranton and his Ph.D. from Howard University. He specializes in African-American history and has an expertise in Civil Rights/Black Power Movements as well as African-American constitutional and legal history. Dr. Williams is presently finishing up a single-authored book entitled Six Degrees of Segregation: Lynching, Capital Punishment and Jim Crow Justice, 1865–1960. 99

M A R T I N , S I D N E Y, A N D O S C A R BY ARAM GOUDSOUZIAN As Sidney Poitier strode across the stage of the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, the audience erupted in cheers. People stood, they clapped, they whistled and roared, they yelled Bravo! The elegant, tuxedo-clad actor stepped behind the podium, holding a composed smile as the applause washed over him.1 The occasion was the fortieth presentation of the Academy Awards. But Poitier did not win an Oscar. He was not even nominated – he was announcing the winner for Best Actress. The audience reaction was rooted in two elements: Poitier’s historic role as Hollywood’s sole Black leading man in the civil rights era, and the recent assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Oscars took place on April 10, 1968, just six days after King’s murder, and just one day after his body was laid to rest. AfricanAmericans were full of rage and despair, as evidenced by riots in major cities. The ceremony was as far removed from the crisis of race, poverty and violence as any place in the United States of America. Yet the 1968 Academy Awards offer a lens into the larger society’s engagement with race in the aftermath of King’s assassination, from a genuine yearning for brotherhood to a cool indifference. It also revealed an American tendency to displace political action through popular culture – in this case, through the icon of Sidney Poitier.   Poitier was, in a sense, the MLK of the movies. As King stirred the nation’s conscience with powerful oratory and nonviolent demonstrations, Poitier played a new Black man, projecting dignity and goodness. His image countered the silly or oversexed stereotypes of the past. Poitier catapulted to stardom in the late 1950s, as King was emerging as the 100


nation’s pre-eminent Black leader. Poitier won the Oscar for Best Actor for Lilies of the Field in 1964, in the wake of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington. The two men communicated similar ideals: love your fellow man, occupy the high moral ground, embrace the American democratic tradition.2 By the late 1960s, both men treaded on rocky terrain. King was the target of a White conservative backlash; he had spoken out against the Vietnam War, demanded “a revolution of values” among American citizens and planned the Poor People’s Campaign, a massive demonstration on Washington, D.C., Poitier seemed to soothe White consciences. In late 1967 and early 1968, he had three consecutive blockbusters — To Sir With Love, In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner — in which he played restrained, near-perfect heroes. In an age of Black Power and the counterculture, he faced his own backlash. His critics considered his icon a White fantasy of contained blackness.3 But to King, Poitier was a “soul brother.” In August 1967, King introduced Poitier as the keynote speaker at the annual conference of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference: “a man with an unswerving dedication to the principles of freedom and human dignity, a man of genuine humanitarian concern and basic goodwill.” Meanwhile, Poitier praised King as “a new man in an old world.” In his SCLC speech, Poitier lamented those who took middle-of-the-road positions that “corrode further the dignity and integrity of human life.” He celebrated how King lived by his convictions, demanding a radical reorientation of national priorities, despite the personal and political costs. “He has made a better man of me,” said Poitier, who promised to reassert his devotion to countering society’s greed and racism.4


After King’s assassination, Poitier joined the memorial march in Memphis, then flew to Atlanta for the funeral. Along with Diahann Carroll, Sammy Davis Jr. and Louis Armstrong, Poitier announced that he would skip the Oscars, which were scheduled for Monday, April 8. After the Academy’s Board of Governors voted to postpone the event for two days, the four Black celebrities agreed to attend.      Poitier seemed to represent King’s dream. In its issue reporting on the assassination, the Pittsburgh Courier also printed a quotation describing the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, alongside a still from the Biblical epic The Greatest Story Ever Told that showed Jesus carrying the cross up Calvary, aided by Simon of Cyrene – played by Sidney Poitier.5  Gregory Peck opened the Academy Awards with appropriate solemnity, paying respect to the slain leader. He added: “One measure of Dr. King’s influence on society we live in is that of the five films nominated for Best Picture of the Year, two dealt with the subject of understanding between the races.” Both were Poitier films, In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. But emcee Bob Hope projected a gruff disinterest in the agonies of Black Americans. He made stale jokes about the two-day postponement. “Any delay really snarls up programming,” he said, quipping that sponsor Eastman-Kodak was unhappy about “a show that took three days to develop.” He seemed annoyed by this unnecessary fuss. His only other reference to King was a moment of Hollywood self-congratulation, hailing producers Jesse Lasky and Samuel Goldwyn “because they, too, had a dream.” Poitier offered a particular moral presence, like a ghost of King. His movies won a host of awards, including Best Original Screenplay for 



Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and Best Adapted Screenplay for In the Heat of the Night. Katharine Hepburn, his co-star in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, won Best Actress. When Rod Steiger won Best Actor, he thanked his co-star from In the Heat of the Night for “the pleasure of his friendship, which gave me the knowledge and understanding of prejudice in order to enhance this performance.” He ended: “We shall overcome.”6 So why, with three celebrated films and such industry-wide admiration, did Poitier receive no Oscar nominations? Critic Vernon Scott assessed that Poitier’s super-smooth, super-smart, super-sincere characters had become their own liberal stereotype. “When Sidney returns to playing believable parts in pictures and forgets his role as Super Negro,” he wrote, “people will no longer find it necessary to ask why Poitier wasn’t nominated.”7  “Along with the fight to desegregate the schools, we must desegregate the entire cultural statement of America,” wrote John Oliver Killens. “We must desegregate the minds of the American people.”8 Poitier’s movies contributed to the ideals set forth by Martin Luther King, Jr. winning favor among many White Americans. But his films failed to depict Black characters as flesh-and-blood people, capable of heroism and villainy and ambiguity and change. Then again, Hollywood almost never tackles social problems, at least not directly. As critic Michael Wood writes, “Entertainment is not, as we often think, a full-scale flight from our problems, not a means of forgetting them completely, but rather a rearrangement of our problems into shapes which tame them, which disperse them to the margins of our attention.”9 The 1968 Oscars, like those Poitier films, showcased a racial ambiguity. In the wake of King’s assassination, Hollywood offered gestures and symbols, a slightly displaced respect. It acknowledged the burdens of race without insisting on change.



 ark Harris, Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood (New York: M Penguin Pres, 2008), 414.


 ram Goudsouzian, “Walking With Kings: Poitier, King, and Obama,” in Ian Gregory Strachan A and Mia Mask, eds., Poitier Revisited: Reconsidering a Black Icon in the Obama Age (New York: Bloomsbury, 2015), 5-30.


 ram Goudsouzian, Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina A Press, 231-296.


“ I Have Decided to Start With Myself,” Keynote Address by Mr. Sidney Poitier, with remarks by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mrs. Dorothy F. Cotton, and Rev. Andrew J. Young, August 14,1967, Part 3, Reel 10, Papers of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.


Pittsburgh Courier, 13 April 1968.


Harris, Pictures at a Revolution, 407-417.


Vernon Scott, “Why No Honors For Poitier?,” Washington Post, 2 March 1968.


John Oliver Killens, The Black Man’s Burden (New York: Trident Press, 1965), 42


 ichael Wood, “America in the Movies,” in West of the West: Imagining California, edited M by  Leonard Michaels, David Reid, and Raquel L. Scherr (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 42.

ABOUT ARAM GOUDSOUZIAN Aram Goudsouzian is the chair of the Department of History at the University of Memphis. Dr. Goudsouzian earned his Ph.D. in History from Purdue University. He specializes in 20th century American history, with a particular focus on race, politics and culture. He is the author of Down to the Crossroads: Civil Rights, Black Power, and the Meredith March Against Fear (2014), King of the Court: Bill Russell and the Basketball Revolution (2010) and Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon (2004). He and Charles McKinney have co-edited a collection of essays: “An Unseen Light: Black Struggles for Freedom in Memphis, Tennessee.”



PICKING UP KING’S LEGACY: REVEREND WILLIAM BARBER AND THE LAUNCHING O F A N E W P O O R P E O P L E ’ S C A M PA I G N BY JEANNE THEOHARIS The air was hot and sticky. Surrounded by clergy, Rev. William Barber lambasted the voter suppression that had compromised the 2016 presidential election. “Long before Russia hacked our election, our government was hacked by racism.” Since Barack Obama’s election in 2008 and the Supreme Court’s 2013 stripping of the Voting Rights Act, Barber explained, twenty-two states had passed new laws making it harder for people, particularly people of color, to vote. But Barber, who’d helped galvanize North Carolina’s Moral Monday movement, wasn’t in Alabama or the Tar Heel state. He was in New York City, standing on the steps of City Hall, flanked by Manhattan borough president Gale Brewer and Reverend Liz Theoharis, co-chair with him of the new Poor Peoples Campaign and co-director of the Kairos Center at Union Theological Seminary. Barber was taking the fight to the Big Apple, stressing the links between voter suppression, low minimum wages, lack of Medicaid expansion and high rates of poverty — and emphasizing the ways New York also limited access to voting with no early voting, no same day registration and no open primaries. Voting rights were not just a southern issue but a national one. From City Hall, they headed to the United Nations to meet with the High Commissioner for Human Rights. They wanted to expose U.S. voter suppression to the world and the racial and economic injustice it furthered.


Highlighting the unlikely and uncomfortable, Rev. William Barber has long refused the ways people silo political issues, separating voting rights from economic issues from immigration, North from South, Black from White from Latino, gay rights from the social safety net. Building an intersectional movement is his driving vision. At a time when political pundits often treat race and class as mutually exclusive political categories, Barber knew they were inseparable. Now he was going bigger — joining forces to build a national Poor People’s movement on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s call for a Poor People’s Campaign and assassination. On April 4, 2017, Reverends Barber and Theoharis stood on a balcony at the Lorraine Motel where King had been assassinated 49 years earlier to launch this year of action. Demanding we “stop basking in our commemorations,’ Barber insisted on action — calling for a “recommitment” to the movement’s unfinished work. A few weeks later, he announced he would be stepping down from the leadership of the North Carolina NAACP to co-chair the new PPC. (“Don’t forget to talk about your sister Liz,” he instructs me, “and how we’re co-chairing it and complement each other — she’s a woman, I’m a man, she’s White, I’m Black, she’s in the North, I’m in the South.”) T H E P O O R P E O P L E ’ S C A M PA I G N The idea for a Poor People’s Campaign began with a 1966 visit Martin Luther King made to a Marks, Mississippi Head Start center where he uncharacteristically broke into tears. Four kids eagerly sat there looking forward to a lunch that consisted of nothing more than a quarter of an apple. “I can’t get those children out of my mind,” King told SCLC activist Ralph Abernathy. “I don’t think people really know that little school children are slowly starving in the United States of America.”



The idea germinated. The nation had developed ways to ignore and hide the impacts of poverty — and part of their aim would be to force the country to “see the poor” and compel Congress to act. In December 1967, King announced the Poor People’s Campaign, zeroing in on the federal government’s “primary responsibility for low minimum wages, for a degrading system of inadequate welfare, for subsidies to the rich and unemployment and underemployment of the poor.” A multi-racial group of poor people from across the nation would descend on the Capitol and stay until their needs were addressed by Congress and the President. Their demands were clear: “$30 billion annual appropriation for a real war on poverty; Congressional passage of full employment and guaranteed income legislation [a guaranteed annual wage]; and Construction of 500,000 low-cost housing units per year.” As King observed, “It didn’t cost the nation one penny to integrate lunch counters, but now we are dealing with issues that cannot be solved without the nation spending billions of dollars and undergoing a radical redistribution of economic power.” The PPC’s first gathering took place in Atlanta in March 1968, bringing over 50 organizations representing poor African-Americans, White, Latinos and Native Americans together to build the campaign. When King was assassinated in April 1968, the mobilization did not stop. On May 12, 1968, organizers broke ground in D.C., setting up a tent city of plywood shanties on the Mall named Resurrection City. Nine caravans of poor people of all races began making their way from across the country to D.C. The most visible Black caravan with 100 people and 17 mule-drawn wagons started out from Marks, Mississippi, the poorest county in the country. Launching a caravan from Memphis, Coretta Scott King declared her own dream “where not some but all of God’s children have food, where not some but all of God’s children


have decent housing, where not some but all of God’s children have a guaranteed annual income in keeping with the principles of liberty and grace.” Caravans of Native Americans and Latinos traveled thousands of miles to D.C. The highpoint of the campaign came on June 19, Solidarity Day. Some 50,000–100,000 gathered to hear Coretta Scott King, Rosa Parks and others address the crowd on the need to fight racism, poverty and war. Key to the PPC’s vision was that people had the right to social assistance — a resounding moral challenge to the prevailing idea that people caused their own poverty. Despite its well-defined demands for full employment, a guaranteed annual income and the construction of more affordable housing, the Poor People’s Campaign was criticized by many in Congress and the media as “unruly” and needing “clarity.” Resurrection City was torn down by police on June 24, 1968. Activists at the Poverty Initiative and Kairos Center at Union Theological Seminary had been building the groundwork for a new Poor People’s Campaign for a number of years — stitching together a coalition of parents from Flint, Fight for $15 workers, young activists in Ferguson, coal miners in West Virginia, farm workers in Immokalee, welfare rights activists and water warriors in Detroit and the Gulf Coast, homeless activists and cultural artists from New York to California and others committed to transformative social change. With poor people as leaders and organizers, this meant addressing police brutality, restoring the social safety net, attacking environmental racism, paying living wages, fighting for immigrant rights and making affordable housing, food and health care available for all.  The synergy between what Kairos was doing and Barber’s vision culminated in a Moral Revival tour in fall 2016 and the call for a new



PPC. “There is a refusal to see and hear what is really happening to the poor,” Barber observed. “In 26 hours of presidential debates there was not one hour on poverty. Not one hour on voting rights. Not even 15 minutes.” In fall 2017, Barber, Theoharis and their crew of anti-poverty crusaders began to crisscross the country from Tempe to Kansas City to Lexington to Los Angeles, making connections with local organizations, holding mass meetings and building movement capacity for 40 days of action in the spring. One key difference from 1968 was they were targeting not just Congress but also state legislatures as part of the problem. A LIFE OF STRUGGLE Born to political parents who moved back to North Carolina to desegregate the schools, the Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II has pastored Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, North Carolina for nearly 25 years. Shortly after Barber arrived at Greenleaf, he was afflicted with ankylosing spondylitis, a form of arthritis so severe it fused his bones/spine in place. He was told he would never walk again — which after years he did. But he cannot sit on a regular chair — only a tall stool — and the pain is so great he often holds meetings with advisors lying flat on his hotel bed to alleviate some of the discomfort. Like disabled freedom fighter Harriet Tubman (who had fainting spells from a severe childhood injury), Barber’s disability comes with him in everything does, making it hard to walk, travel, march, stand, sit and endure long meetings. But like Tubman, Barber is relentless and undeterred, clear that his work is only possible because of the assistance of comrades and family and because he has good health coverage (which he insists must be available for all). Barber talks about the need to “own our brokenness,” as individuals and as a nation. “You can’t fix it when you don’t own it.”


Harvard University Professor Cornel West has described Barber as “the closest person we have to Martin Luther King, Jr. in our midst.” News outlets routinely quote this — but the comparison demands far more than it seems on the face of it: to take seriously the substance of who King actually was, rather than the ever-dreaming caricature he has been turned into. Barber’s prophetic voice, like King’s, weaves together a critique of the “giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism” — seeing racism not as a problem of the South but of the nation, intertwined with economic exploitation and war making.  Like King, Barber is a scholar and a minister who spends much of his time on the road, weaving together a broader national struggle for racial, economic and social justice, adamant his religious calling necessitates making justice in the world. The similarities to King are not always easy ones — exhausting schedules, dizzying travel, death threats, numerous arrests, scores of people sharing devastating oppression that weigh on the spirit, a religious calling which necessitates critiquing allies and fellow Christians for their own roles in maintaining oppression. Like King, Barber understands that the fight for racial and social justice at home is indivisible from the fight for human rights and against U.S. militarism and Islamophobia at home and abroad. He worries about the tendency to fetishize individual leaders, describing how they are “building this movement of people of the poor, not with the poor so even if something happens to one of us, it does not undermine the movement.” And he laments our tendencies to “love the tombs of the prophets” but refuse to take up their work.



“JESUS WAS A POOR MAN” The night the Senate was trying to pass the ‘skinny repeal,’ Barber was in D.C. out on the lawn with protesters. They had brought caskets to highlight the deaths the repeal would cause but were told by Capitol police they had to remove them. Proceeding inside to the Senate gallery and wearing a religious stole that read “Jesus was a poor man,” Barber was instructed to take it off if he wanted to enter. “This is a fact,” Barber recounted telling the guard. “Jesus was a poor man.” To Barber this was emblematic — “if it’s too graphic or too pointed, the forces that be have given directives that it should not be seen.” And so, just as 50 years ago, “we must see what our society has refused to see.”

ABOUT JEANNE THEOHARIS Jeanne Theoharis is Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Brooklyn College of CUNY and the author of The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks, which won a 2014 NAACP Image Award. Her new book, A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History, will be out in January by Beacon Press.


P O V E R T Y, R A C I S M , A N D T H E L E G A C Y O F K I N G ’ S P O O R P E O P L E ’ S C A M PA I G N BY KERI LEIGH MERRITT Reflecting back upon the 50 years since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one singular point always stands out, a searing reminder of what was — and still is — America’s grossest injustice: that in one of the richest nations in the world, so many millions of people remain trapped in cyclical, soul-crushing poverty. Dr. King, of course, regularly received death threats as he fought for political rights for African-Americans. Police and law enforcement agents beat and jailed him repeatedly for his stances on social equity. Yet it remains poignant and striking that he was murdered as soon as he began agitating for economic justice. 112


The memory of King as an impassioned economic justice-warrior is continually threatened today by the oligarchs who remain in power. They instead take great pains to erase that part of King’s life from his legacy. They attempt to silence his cries for a more monetarily equitable society. They deliberately obscure the final few years of his life. This sanitized, “white-washed” version of King, presented in everything from children’s textbooks to internet memes, purges the intense radicalism of the strike-leading preacher. By his late-thirties, King fully realized that social and political justice would always be predicated upon economics. Poverty, he understood, had to be eradicated. His speeches increasingly became threatening to the established American economic hierarchy. He very naturally turned his attention to the benefits of “Christina” socialism — and the historical reasons why a redistribution of wealth was both necessary and just. By 1967, King was repeatedly condemning the “triple evils” of racism, militarism and poverty. He began defining true integration as a society in which all people — regardless of race or background — would “share equally” not only power but also wealth. Poverty could be abolished completely given that America was one of the richest nations in the world, he held. By reallocating money spent on the Vietnam War to poor people, every citizen finally could afford decent housing and good educations, economic assurances that would literally transform their lives.1 As King advanced his arguments, he always undergirded his policy proposals with an extremely sophisticated grasp of the nation’s history. “The plantation and the ghetto were created by those who had power, both to confine those who had no power and to perpetuate their powerlessness,” he thundered, “and power properly understood is nothing but the ability to achieve purpose.”2


In addition to standard social safety nets such as universal health care, King further advocated for a universal jobs guarantee and a basic income for all Americans. “We must create full employment, or we must create incomes... New forms of work that enhance the social good will have to be devised for those for whom traditional jobs are not available,” he continued.3 King was right: America is still — today — in desperate need of both a federal jobs guarantee (FJG) and a universal basic income (UBI). The UBI would be for those who truly needed it — those who could not endure traditional full-time employment, either because of age, illness, disability, care-taking or student-status. But, as King suggested, a UBI must be paired with an FJG. The vast majority of Americans want to work; they derive a sense of pride and fulfillment and identity from their jobs. An FJG would truly revolutionize society. Part of the FJG’s brilliance lies in its inherent protection of workers: because disgruntled laborers always have the option of leaving an abusive workplace to work for the government, an FJG would keep private companies — who historically have exploited their workers at every turn — as honest and humane as employers can possibly be. Soon after making these recommendations, in November of 1967 Martin Luther King, Jr. announced the Poor People’s Campaign. The movement organized a temporary city — Resurrection City ­— on the National Mall. It was populated by 3,000-5,000 impoverished Americans: Black, White, Native American, Mexican American and Puerto Rican. Against the wishes of more conservative Civil Rights leaders, King and several other advisors met with government officials to demand more jobs, a living minimum wage, affordable housing, reasonably-priced food, a better system of education and even unemployment insurance.4



In one of his final speeches, “Remaining Awake for a Great Revolution,” delivered just days before his death, King passionately called for an intensified and racially unified movement. He wanted to continue the fight against such incredible poverty in a country filled with so much concentrated opulence. “Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation,” he preached, yet “America has not met its obligations and its responsibilities to the poor.”5 These points, made so eloquently by King half a century ago, are still essential to understanding the tragedies of America today. Indeed, rampant, systemic racism, the persistence of poverty and a deep division between poor and working-class people of different races have kept us the most backward, unequal developed countries in the world. Indeed, as wealth inequality continues to deepen, political disenfranchisement once again becomes commonplace and increasing numbers of Americans become apathetic and nihilistic, we are truly at a crossroads. And as modern technological innovation and the loss of American jobs overseas further threatens the plight of laborers, nothing short of the drastic changes that Martin Luther King, Jr. proposed during the Poor People’s Campaign will truly help alleviate hardship and suffering among our nation’s most impoverished. Such a fundamental restructuring of our society would also usher in a cultural and spiritual renaissance of sorts, as we connect labor — all labor — back to dignity, economic sufficiency and autonomy. It’s time once again — at this precipitous historical moment, 50 years after Martin Luther King’s death — to propose real solutions to end impoverishment once and for all, to usher in a Third American Reconstruction. As King so righteously thundered just a few short days before his assassination, “There is nothing new about poverty.


What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty.” But, he concluded, “The real question is whether we have the will.”6  ichael Honey, Going Down Jericho Road: The Memphis Strike, Martin Luther King’s Last M Campaign (New York: W.W. Norton, 2007), 174-5. 2 Martin Luther King, Jr., “Where Do We Go from Here?,” Delivered at the 11th Annual SCLS Convention, Atlanta, GA, Aug. 16, 1967. documents/where-do-we-go-here-delivered-11th-annual-sclc-convention 3 Ibid. 4 Amy Nathan Wright, “Civil Rights ‘Unfinished Business’: Poverty, Race, and the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign,” Ph.D. Diss., University of Texas, 2007. 5 Martin Luther King, Jr., “Remaining Awake for a Great Revolution,” Delivered at the National Cathedral, Washington, D.C., on 31 March 1968. Congressional Record, 9 April 1968. https:// 6 Ibid. 1

ABOUT KERI LEIGH MERRITT Keri Leigh Merritt works as an independent scholar in Atlanta, Georgia. She received her B.A. in History and Political Science from Emory University, and her M.A. and Ph.D. (2014) in History from the University of Georgia. Her research focuses on race and class in U.S. history. Merritt’s work on poverty and inequality has garnered multiple awards. Her first book, Masterless Men: Poor Whites and Slavery in the Antebellum South, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2017. She has also co-edited a book on southern labor history with Matthew Hild (Reconsidering Southern Labor History: Race, Class, and Power, University Press of Florida, Summer 2018), and is currently conducting research for books on radical Black resistance during Reconstruction, and on the role of sheriffs and police in the 19th century South.



RECLAIMING KING BY HASAN JEFFRIES Few people are more deserving of the praise they receive than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His commitment to social justice and racial equality was unshakable. His belief in nonviolence was unwavering. His courage in the face of danger was inspiring. And his sacrifice on behalf of others was unconditional. But far too often King is praised for the wrong reasons. In death, he is celebrated for espousing points of view that he never embraced in life. The discrepancy between King’s beliefs and those that are attributed to him stems from efforts to understand the civil rights leader solely through the prism of the March on Washington. In the minds of most, King is frozen in time, stuck in 1963 standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial dreaming about a colorblind society. Indeed, his “I Have A Dream” speech now defines him. It is what school children recite during Black History Month assemblies, what politicians quote during King Day celebrations and what corporations emphasize during advertising campaigns targeting Black audiences.


“I Have A Dream” is classic King, with its soaring oratory, rich visuals, deep historical analysis, astute contemporary criticism and lofty goals. But the speech is almost never played, read, or recited in its entirety. Instead, the sixteen-minute address is reduced to a handful of overused sound bites, snippets that are rarely historicized. Treated this way, “I Have A Dream” renders invisible King’s true political self. Lost is his critique of the twin pillars of American society — racism and capitalism, as well as his belief in color conscious approaches to solving the problems plaguing Black people. Shying away from the bitter truths about American society that King offered and the difficult but necessary solutions to change that he championed has become common practice. It is what tends to happen during celebrations of his birthday and commemorations of his death. Outspoken in life on the critical issues of the day, including racism, poverty and war, he has been silenced in death. Whereas once he was despised for speaking out, now he is honored for saying absolutely nothing. Hero-making in this way, however, comes at a cost, and the price paid in this instance has been King’s relevance to contemporary social justice causes such as ending police violence. The killing of unarmed African-Americans by police has animated social justice advocates in recent years, giving rise most notably to the Black Lives Matter Movement (BLM), which has adopted traditional civil rights era tactics, from mass marches to nonviolent civil disobedience. In tenor and tone, however, BLM is much more Black Power than civil rights, more Malcolm X than Martin King. But it need not be. King understood that ending police terror, whether emanating from the sheriff’s office in Selma, Alabama or the 72nd Precinct in Brooklyn, New York, was absolutely essential for African-Americans to enjoy the full scope of their freedom rights. “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is victim of the



unspeakable horrors of police brutality,” he said in “I Have A Dream.” Like Malcolm, Martin understood that racial terrorists wore blue uniforms as well as white robes. Reclaiming King requires reimagining him. It involves seeing him as a visionary who conceived of a racially egalitarian society, the Beloved Community, and not simply as a dreamer who thought racism could be wished away. It also requires that parents, teachers, preachers and politicians do the heavy lifting of spreading the gospel of the reclaimed King. Parents must talk to their children about King’s life. They must discuss him being born in the Jim Crow South; growing up during the Depression; attending all-Black Morehouse College; hesitating before agreeing to take on a leadership role in the Montgomery bus boycott; wavering on nonviolence when racial terrorists bombed his home; involving children in the Birmingham crusade; winning in Selma and losing in Chicago; and being killed while fighting for fair wages and humane treatment for sanitation workers. Teachers must teach their students about more than King’s March on Washington moment. They must construct lessons on his efforts to end segregation in Albany, Georgia and Chicago; rid Birmingham and Los Angeles of police violence; secure voting rights in Selma and Jackson, Mississippi; stop the war in Vietnam; ensure that all labor had dignity; and eradicate poverty nationwide. They also need to situate King in the larger context of the African-American freedom struggle so that he becomes the starting point for broader conversations on movement leaders and leadership, strategies and tactics, ideologies and beliefs, goals and objectives and victories and defeat.


Preachers must preach about King’s social gospel ministry. They must explain to congregants his embrace of Jesus’ social justice teachings, from his admonition to care for the least among us to his instruction to be an advocate for the marginalized and outcast. Clergy must also be models of action, demonstrating the ways King applied Jesus’ teachings to contemporary problems in education, housing, criminal justice and employment. A sermon based on King’s social gospel ministry is fine. A community program based on it is better. And politicians must implement the kind of democratic politics that King favored. They must safeguard the civil liberties of people of color and other marginalized groups by ensuring equal access to the ballot box and due process under the law. They must protect people’s civil and human rights by mandating a livable wage; eliminating discriminatory housing policies and practices; increasing direct investment in public education; and strengthening social safety net programs, including those that make healthcare accessible and affordable. And they must insist that race be considered at all times to decrease disparate racial impacts and increase equality of opportunity and outcome. Reclaiming King not only corrects the historical record regarding his life and legacy, it also rescues the Civil Rights Movement from nonviolent romanticization and political de-radicalization. Most people have a “Kingcentric” understanding of the movement, meaning they view it exclusively through King’s eyes and experiences. But when his perspective is misunderstood and his experiences are not properly historicized, the movement becomes strictly a nonviolent crusade that started suddenly when King emerged as a national figure in 1955 and ended abruptly when he was killed in 1968. Everything and everyone else are secondary at best and irrelevant or detrimental at worse, from local leaders to self-defense strategies. And similar to the mythologized King 120


who most people celebrate today, this version of the freedom struggle has little to offer contemporary social justice causes. As a blueprint for making change, it is useless. In life, King spoke inconvenient truths. But in death, his words have been reinterpreted for the sake of creating a convenient hero. As a consequence, the valuable lessons he taught regarding how to organize a more just and democratic society have been lost, reducing his legacy to a collection of feel-good catchphrases. Reclaiming King, therefore, is about more than promoting historical accuracy. It’s about making his life’s work relevant so that everyone can better understand yesterday, can make better sense of today and can make better plans for tomorrow.

A B O U T H A S A N K . J E F F R I E S Hasan Kwame Jeffries is Associate Professor of History at The Ohio State University. Dr. Jeffries earned his B.A. in History from Morehouse College and his M.A. and Ph.D. in African-American History from Duke University. He specializes in 20th century African-American history and has an expertise in the Civil Rights-Black Power Movement. He is the author of Bloody Lowndes: Civil Rights and Black Power in Alabama’s Black Belt (2009), and is the editor of the forthcoming book Understanding and Teaching the Civil Rights Movement.


RECLAIMING KING II BY IBRAM X. KENDI When Americans remember Martin Luther King, Jr., we first and foremost remember his “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.” When we celebrate and observe King’s dream from the March on Washington on August 28, 1963, we celebrate and observe America’s march of racial progress over the last five decades. Americans have thoroughly integrated King’s dream of racial progress into the American dream of liberty and equality. Both marching bands have played over the last five decades. But Americans often ignore something crucial about King and America’s recent history. While hailing racial progress over the last five decades, Americans have largely ignored the concurrent progression of racism in America. If King’s well-known dream symbolized the glorious march of racial progress over the last five decades, then King’s unknown nightmare symbolized the inglorious march of racist progress over the last five decades. King’s nightmare is somewhat unknown even among those who have taken part in King’s reclamation project — all those serious efforts over the years to “reclaim King” from the paragons of post-racialism, from the centerpiece of American liberalism that King so deftly tried to excuse himself from as early as 1963 in his “Letter from the Birmingham Jail.” Historians have been reclaiming King from all those people who like to imagine that King had nothing else to say after 1963. Historians have been reclaiming King from all those people who have buried the socialist MLK, the antiwar MLK, the MLK of Black Power.



But, we must reclaim much more. Historians must reclaim King’s nightmare — and place it forever more beside the dream along the banner of King’s memory. Historians must reclaim the nightmare as a symbol of the progression of racism — a progression that liberals tend to downplay and conservatives tend to dismiss outright. According to popular history, King’s dream started its march to reality when President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act on July 2, 1964. Indeed, it was the most influential piece of civil rights legislation since the Civil Rights Act of 1875. The bill outlawed intentional discrimination in nearly every sector of society. But what about those institutions with discriminatory policies that could not be proven to be intentional? By Congress focusing on intent instead of outcome, discriminators merely had to delete their racial language from their documents and rhetoric to hide their intent. And that is precisely what they did. Therefore, as much as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 closed the door on obviously intentional discrimination, it also opened the door to policies where the discriminatory intent was consciously or unconsciously hidden. And so, as much as the Civil Rights Act brought on racial progress, it also brought on racist progress. Some members of Congress were aware of these hiding forces in 1964. But they choose not to explicitly bar all those seemingly race-neutral policies that sustained or brought into being racial disparities. The intent-focused Civil Rights Act of 1964 was not nearly as effective as the more outcome-focused Voting Rights Act of 1965 — the next major act in America’s popular story of racial progress. In Mississippi alone, Black voter turnout increased from 6 percent in 1964 to 59 percent in


1969. Even still, LBJ’s Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach testified before Congress that “increased voting strength might encourage a shift in the tactics of discrimination.” We have seen these new tactics in recent years on full display in the U.S. Supreme Court chambers, in Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina — all over the nation. King saw these new tactics emerging during his final years. In recoiling from the urban rebellions growing in size and intensity from 1964 to 1967, King recoiled against the effects of the old (and new) discrimination that the civil rights movement failed to terminate. Even President Johnson, in an address to Howard University graduates in 1965, took note of the fact that racial disparities in unemployment had grown, income disparities had grown; and disparities in poverty, infant mortality and segregation had all grown during the civil rights movement. King took note of this fact weeks after he finally turned his nonviolent activism towards the U.S. war machine in Vietnam. On May 8, 1967, King participated in a wide-ranging conversation with veteran NBC News correspondent Sander Vanocur. King told Vanocur that he had gone through a lot of “soul searching” and “agonizing moments” since his famous speech in 1963. His “old optimism” was “a little superficial” and he had replaced it with “a solid realism,” he said. King foresaw “difficult days ahead,” candidly admitting to Vanocur that his “dream” had “turned into a nightmare.” King sounded eerily like Malcolm X. “We don’t see any American dream,” Malcolm lectured in Detroit on April 12, 1964. “We’ve experienced only the American nightmare.” King’s (and Malcolm X’s) nightmare was — and turned out to be the progression of racism in America. Racist policies have evolved since the 1960s, sustaining the nation’s racial disparities, and mass impoverishing and incarcerating Black people. Racist ideas have evolved since the



1960s, sustaining those policies with false conceptions that there is nothing wrong with Whites remaining on the socioeconomic top and Blacks on the bottom. These contemporary racist ideas have done what racist ideas have always done: they have repressed resistance to discrimination and cast blame on Black people for the nation’s racial problems. Americans can no longer celebrate King’s dream of Barack Obama’s America and ignore King’s nightmare of Tamir Rice’s America. In reclaiming King, we must reclaim the totality of this visionary, the totality of America’s recent racial history. We must observe the beauty and the ugliness — America’s racial progress and its simultaneous progression of racism — or King’s nightmare will continue to shoot and kill King’s unarmed dream.

ABOUT IBRAM X. KENDI Ibram X. Kendi is Professor of History and International Relations and the Founding Director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University in Washington, D.C. His second book, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, won the 2016 National Book Award for Nonfiction. Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America was a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award, a Hurston/Wright Legacy Award and a NAACP Image Award. Kendi is also the author of the award-winning book, The Black Campus Movement: Black Students and the Racial Reconstitution of Higher Education, 1965–1972. He has published essays in numerous periodicals, including The New York Times, Salon, Time, The Washington Post and The Chronicle of Higher Education. His next book, which will be published by One World/Random House, is tentatively titled, How to Be an Antiracist: A Memoir of My Journey. 125

BLACK WOMEN, CIVIL RIGHTS AND THE STRUGGLE F O R BO D I LY I N T E G R I T Y DANIELLE L. MCGUIRE On September 3, 1944, Mrs. Recy Taylor, a slender, copper-colored and beautiful twenty-four-year-old mother and sharecropper, walked home from a church revival in Abbeville, Alabama. Just past midnight, a gang of armed White men, kidnapped her off the street, forced her into their green Chevrolet and drove her to a wooded stand a few miles outside town. Herbert Lovett, a 24-year-old private in the United States Army ordered Taylor to undress and get on the ground. “Act just like you do with your husband,” he said, “or I’ll cut your damn throat.” Lovett was the first of six men who raped Taylor that night. When they finally released Taylor, they blindfolded her and threatened to kill her if she said anything. “Don’t move until we get away from here,” one of them yelled as their car pulled away. Taylor waited until she was alone, then pulled off the blindfold, got her bearings and staggered toward home where she told her father, her husband and the local sheriff what happened. A few days later, a telephone rang at the NAACP branch office in Montgomery, Alabama. E. D. Nixon, the local president, listened carefully as the caller detailed a brutal gang rape. He promised to send his best investigator to Abbeville.



Her name was Rosa Parks. It was a decade before the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott and Rosa Parks was already a militant race woman, a sharp detective and an anti-rape activist. In 1943, she became secretary of the Montgomery NAACP, which meant that she was regularly dispatched to investigate incidents of racial violence throughout the state. When she heard about what happened to Recy Taylor, she grabbed her notepad and a pen and drove to Abbeville, where she interviewed Taylor at length. Rosa Parks then carried Taylor’s testimony back to Montgomery where she and the city’s most militant activists formed the Committee for Equal Justice for Mrs. Recy Taylor. With help from activists around the state, including the mostly female-led Southern Negro Youth Congress, they launched a nationwide protest movement that the Chicago Defender called the “strongest campaign for equal justice to be seen in a decade.”  Eleven years later, this group of homegrown activists would become better known as the Montgomery Improvement Association, vaunting its first president, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to international prominence and launching a movement that would help change the world. But when that coalition first took root, Dr. King was still in high school. The 1955-1956 Montgomery bus boycott, often heralded as the opening scene of the modern civil rights movement, was in many ways, the last act of a decades-long struggle to protect Black women, like Recy Taylor, from sexualized violence and rape. The kidnapping and rape of Recy Taylor was not unusual in the segregated South. It was an act of racial terror rooted in slavery. Colonial-era laws banned interracial marriage, but not fornication or childbirth out of


wedlock; and made the offspring of enslaved women the property of their masters, giving White men a financial incentive to sexually exploit and control their slaves. This also awarded White men exclusive sexual access to White women while denying Black women the respectability and rights garnered through a legal relationship. These laws maintained White men’s position atop the social, political and economic hierarchy. When slavery ended, these laws, and the practices that grew out of them, remained. From Reconstruction through the better part of the 20th century, White men abducted and assaulted Black women and girls with impunity. They lured them away from home with promises of steady work and better wages; attacked them on the job; abducted them at gunpoint while traveling to or from home, work or church; and sexually humiliated and assaulted them on streetcars and buses, in taxicabs and trains and other public spaces. As Chana Kai Lee, the biographer of the acclaimed freedom fighter, Fannie Lou Hamer put it, “a Black woman’s body was never hers alone.” Black women and girls fought back by testifying about their brutal assaults and resisting systemic racism and sexism. In fact, decades before second-wave feminists urged rape survivors to “speak out,” African-American women’s testimonies and public protests galvanized local, national and even international outrage and sparked larger campaigns for racial justice and human dignity. Indeed, Black women launched the first public attacks on sexual violence as a “systemic abuse of women.” Harriet Jacobs detailed her master’s lechery in her autobiography to “arouse the women of the North” and “convince the people of the Free States what slavery really is.” After slavery, Black clubwomen called for the protection of Black women’s bodily integrity as part of a larger struggle against White supremacy and



lynching. In 1892, for example, Ida B. Wells told a massive crowd at Lyric Hall in New York that while Black men were being accused of ravishing White women, “the rape of helpless Negro girls, which began in slavery days, still continues without reproof from church, state or press.“ At the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, Fannie Barrier Williams spoke out against the “shameful fact that I am constantly in receipt of letters from the still unprotected women of the South….” Anna Julia Cooper, a Washington, D.C. educator, author and respected clubwoman, echoed Williams’s testimony. Black women, she told the crowd, were engaged in a “painful, patient and silent toil…to gain title to the bodies of their daughters.” Throughout the 20th century, African-American women persisted in telling their stories, frequently cited in local and national NAACP reports. Their testimonies and demands for protection spilled out in letters to the Department of Justice and appeared on the front pages of the nation’s leading Black newspapers. By deploying their voices as weapons in the wars against White supremacy, whether in the church, the courtroom, or in congressional hearings, African-American women loudly resisted what Martin Luther King, Jr., called the “thingification” of White supremacy and patriarchy.  When Recy Taylor spoke out against her assailants in Abbeville, Alabama, and Rosa Parks and her allies in Montgomery mobilized to defend her in 1944, they joined this tradition of testimony and protest. Their work laid a foundation for a series of campaigns in Montgomery from the late 1940s through 1956 to defend and protect Black women’s bodily integrity, especially on the city’s buses, which were sites of violence and vulnerability. It was much easier and safer for Black women and girls, who made up the majority of Montgomery City Line’s ridership, to stop riding the buses than it was to bring their assailants — usually White policemen or bus drivers — to justice. By walking hundreds of miles to protest 129

humiliation and testifying publicly about physical and sexual abuse, Black women reclaimed their bodies and demanded to be treated with dignity and respect. Montgomery, Alabama was not the only place in which attacks on Black women fueled protests against White supremacy. Between 1940 and 1975, sexual violence and interracial rape became one crucial battleground upon which African-Americans sought to destroy White supremacy and gain personal and political autonomy.  Nowhere was this more apparent and more important than in Tallahassee, Florida, where Betty Jean Owens, a student at the historically Black FAMU, stood in front of an all-White jury in 1959 and testified about being kidnapped and gang raped by four White men. Owens’ testimony focused national attention on the sexual exploitation of African-American women and led to a historic guilty verdict that was as much a watershed then as it is today. Like the Tallahassee case, the 1965 trial of Norman Cannon, a White man who abducted and raped a Black teenager named Rosa Lee Coates in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, had broad implications for both the Mississippi movement and the African-American freedom struggle as a whole. The guilty verdict and life sentence was recognized nationally as a major civil rights victory and ought to be considered one of pillars of the modern civil rights movement. An analysis of sex and sexualized violence in well-known civil rights narratives changes the historical markers and meanings of the movement. While the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is often referenced as the bookend of the modern civil rights movement, one of the last legal barriers to Black women’s bodily integrity and respectability fell



in 1967, when the Supreme Court banned laws prohibiting interracial marriage in the landmark Loving v. Virginia decision. Only by placing the Loving decision within the long struggle for Black women’s bodily integrity and freedom from racial and sexual terror, can it be properly recognized as a major marker in Black freedom movement.  The struggle did not stop with that landmark victory. The right of AfricanAmerican women to defend themselves from White men’s sexual advances was tested in the 1975 trial of Joan Little, a twenty-year old Black female inmate from Washington, North Carolina, who killed a White police officer after he allegedly sexually assaulted her. The broad coalition of supporters who rallied to Little’s defense showed continuity with the past. The Free Joan Little movement mirrored the eclectic coalition that formed to demand justice for Recy Taylor in 1944. They were both led primarily by African-American women, including Rosa Parks, and helped serve as catalysts for larger movements against rape, police violence and racial inequality. The stunning not-guilty verdict, announced by an interracial jury, signaled a significant break from the past and pointed to future struggles. The Little case made visible the vulnerability of Black women and other women of color trapped in the carceral system. However, their experiences with state-sanctioned and police violence are still too often minimized, ignored or disappeared from campaigns for racial justice despite the fact that Black women have historically led and continue to lead these resistance movements. For example, the Black Lives Matter movement, sparked by the unpunished murder of Black teenager Michael Brown by a White police officer in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, drew national attention to police violence against Black men and boys, which tended to obscure similar violence against Black women and girls. As a result, the African-American Policy Forum, co-


founded by legal scholar and organizer, Kimberle Crenshaw, began the #SayHerName campaign in 2014 to make visible Black women and girls’ experiences with police brutality and state violence. Similar to the Free Joan Little movement in 1975 and the Committee for Equal Justice for Mrs. Recy Taylor in 1944, the #SayHerName campaign demands that we center Black women and girls’ experiences and testimonies in order to understand the ways in which interpersonal and institutional violence is intersectional. Take for example the case of Daniel Holtzclaw, an Oklahoma police officer who was sentenced to 263 years in prison for committing sex crimes against 13 different AfricanAmerican women and girls. He chose his victims based upon their class, race, age and gender-based vulnerabilities. Like the White men who kidnapped and raped Recy Taylor, Betty Jean Owens and Joan Little, Holtzclaw counted on Black women’s historic invisibility and erasure as victims to ensure his innocence. Their testimonies against him and in defense of their bodies and lives are part of the long legacy of Black women demanding visibility and justice. The stories of Black women who fought for bodily integrity and personal dignity hold profound truths about the sexualized violence that marked racial politics and African-American lives during the modern civil rights movement. Understanding the role rape and sexual violence played in African-Americans’ daily lives and within the larger freedom struggle, demands that we center Black women — their experiences, their testimonies, their resistance and their leadership — in the long history of the African-American freedom movement and in ongoing struggles for justice and equality today. 



ABOUT DANIELLE MCGUIRE Danielle McGuire is an award-winning historian and author. She earned a Ph.D. from Rutgers University and an M.A. and B.A. from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She is a Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians and has appeared on National Public Radio, BookTV (CSPAN), CNN, and dozens of local radio stations throughout the United States, South America and Canada. Her first book, At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance — A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power (2010), won the OAH Frederick Jackson Turner Award, the Lillian Smith Award and the Southern Association of Women Historians’ Julia Cherry Spruill Award. Her new book, Murder in the Motor City: The 1967 Detroit Uprising and American Injustice, is forthcoming from Knopf.


DEFINING THE DREAM BY MICHAEL HONEY Each generation looks at history from a different perspective. As someone who came of age in the 1960s, I followed King’s agenda closely. When he urged young men to refuse the draft, I became a conscientious objector. When he called on us to confront racial and economic inequality, I went on a bus from Pontiac, Michigan, to join the Poor People’s Campaign mass march on June 12, 1968. As a Conscientious Objector, I even followed the King legacy down to Memphis. I worked there for six years as a regional civil liberties organizer, attempting to block the Nixon Administration’s efforts to wipe out the Bill of Rights and destroy movements for social change. We continued throughout the 1970s to make progress in environmental regulations, in breaking down workplace discrimination, in ending the war in Vietnam and replacing racist and sexist thinking with a broader and more humane view of life. Unions were still strong and able to demand a living wage. Although we lost King, his dream made sense: we believed as he did that the richest nation in the world could afford to extend vibrant health care and education to every person, that we could end slums and poverty, that every child could have integrated, quality education. Even his idea of guaranteeing a median, affordable income for every person made sense. We had not yet spent trillions and trillions of dollars over numerous generations to pursue destructive and hopeless wars abroad. The conservative counter-attack in the form of the Business Roundtable, the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute and academic libertarian think tanks had not yet shifted public attention away from Franklin Roosevelt’s freedom from fear and King’s idea of economic equality, to instead convince people that the “free” market of capitalism, freed 134


from government environmental and labor regulations, would solve all our economic problems. Today, looking across the wreckage of unions, forever wars abroad, the use of tax money for privatization of public schooling, the ballooning profits to the top one percent and the degradation of eighty percent of our society, a massive waste of resources on trillion dollar nuclear weapon “modernization” and gigantic military spending, we may feel a lot like King did toward the end of his life. Always an optimist who believed that unearned suffering would bring about a change and a better society, by 1968 he feared that America’s long-standing addiction to militarism, extreme materialism and racism would overcome our better natures. He particularly feared that racism created blindness to the grand possibilities of life in his ideal of the beloved community, and would lead to a kind of American fascism and destroy our nation’s relatively young experiment in democracy. “Hope dies last,” oral historian Studs Terkle wrote at the end of his own life. King said during the Poor People’s Campaign, “without hope, I could not go on.” I believe King would not have given up on the dream for a nation and a people that he deeply loved. He defined that dream in clearest detail when he spoke to trade unionists of the AFL-CIO in 1961: Differences have been contrived by outsiders who seek to impose disunity by dividing brothers because the color of their skin has a different shade. I look forward confidently to the day when all who work for a living will be one with no thought of their separateness as Negroes, Jews, Italians, or any other distinctions. This will be the day when we shall bring into full realization the dream of American democracy — a dream yet unfulfilled. A dream of equality of opportunity, of privilege and property widely distributed; a dream of a land where men will not take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few; a dream of a land 135

where men will not argue that the color of a man’s skin determines the content of his character; a dream of a nation where all our gifts and resources are held not for ourselves alone but as instruments of service for the rest of humanity; the dream of a country where every man will respect the dignity and worth of human personality — that is the dream. How and what should we remember about King? If King had survived 1968, I’m sure he would have replaced his male pronouns. In fulfilling the best elements of its religious and civic heritage, he would have addressed all genders and classes and ethnicities, as Coretta King did after his passing. King’s legacy is that he helped Americans to develop a larger vision of what they could be and what our country could achieve. He reminded us that our ancestors lived through slavery and sharecropping yet we have gone on to make a better day possible. And he told us not to give up. As he said to the AFL-CIO, “As we struggle to make racial and economic justice a reality, let us maintain faith in the future. At times we confront difficult and frustrating moments in the struggle to make justice a reality, but we must believe somehow that these problems can be solved.” These many years later, the dream remains a nightmare for far too many. Much as we celebrate King, as we should, his is also a terribly painful story about the disappointments and betrayals of the dream of a better world. Yet millions of immigrants come here from around the world because the dream lives on. Is it too late for America? Will internal decay and failure to live up to its ideals destroy the dream, as King feared? Where do we go from here? Chaos or community? That is the question King asked in his last book. He posed some powerful answers to those questions. If we remember King’s unfinished agenda, it might help us to once again move forward, some day, toward the beloved community.    



ABOUT MICHAEL HONEY Michael Honey is an historian, Guggenheim Fellow and Haley Professor of Humanities at the University of Washington Tacoma. Dr. Honey earned his B.A. from Oakland University, his M.A. from Howard University and his Ph.D. from Northern Illinois University. His research focuses on African-American, civil rights and labor history and he specializes in work on Martin Luther King, Jr. Honey’s work is noted for his extensive use of oral history, deep archival research and vibrant writing style. Some of his books include Sharecropper’s Troubadour: John L. Handcox, the Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union and the African American Song Tradition; Going Down Jericho Road: The Memphis Strike, Martin Luther King’s Last Campaign; and the forthcoming To The Promised Land: Martin Luther King and the Fight for Economic Justice (2018). Honey also directed and co-produced the film Love and Solidarity, James Lawson and Nonviolence in the Search for Workers’ Rights.

ABOUT HONEY’S BOOK THE PROMISED LAND “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a revolutionary, fighting to end social injustice and economic inequality, and a catalyst for the ongoing rebellions of the poor. Honey tells a compelling story of militant, revolutionary love in action.  This is a dangerous book.” — Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination


A DREAM DEFERRED BY JAMES H. JOHNSON, JR. In his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. envisioned a future American society in which Black children would no longer “be judged by the color of their skin but [rather] by the content of their character.” A society free of the debilitating effects of racial segregation and poverty where “little Black boys and Black girls [would] be able to join hands with little White boys and White girls as sisters and brothers.”   America is far more diverse today than it was in 1963 when Dr. King shared his dream with a massive crowd of civil rights marchers from the steps of Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Moreover, a host of civil rights laws have been enacted to end the most virulent forms of racial discrimination that Dr. King chronicled so eloquently in his speech.



Reflecting on Dr. King’s dream of a more just and equitable society 50 years after an assassin’s bullet tragically cut short his life, I am convinced that he would be deeply troubled by the current plight of America’s nonWhite youth who are rapidly becoming the numerical majority in our nation’s public schools and, through no fault of their own, are increasingly faced with a “triple whammy of geographic disadvantages” in their educational pursuits.    The daunting challenges that America’s non-White youth face are rooted in two colorful demographic processes that are dramatically transforming both the racial and ethnic complexion (the “browning” of America) and the age structure (the “graying” of America) of our communities. “Browning” is immigration-driven and “graying” is driven by the aging of the Baby Boomer generation and increasing longevity among our senior population. Emblematic of the “browning” trend, U.S. census data reveal that people of color — Hispanics, Blacks, Asians and other non-White groups — accounted for 92 percent of U.S. net population growth between 2000 and 2016. The “graying” of the American population is driven principally by the aging of the predominantly White Baby Boomers — the 80 million people born between 1946 and 1964. Boomers began turning 65 in 2011 and will continue to do so at the rate of 8,000 per day over the next 20 years. Moreover, the average boomer who is turning 65 is projected to live another 18.7 years. At the same time, fertility rates are declining, especially among non-Hispanic Whites, which means that a profound shift in the racial composition of the school age population is underway.     Owing to these demographic shifts and a range of geo-political strategies aimed at constraining, isolating and/or reversing the “browning” of America, non-White youth are disproportionately concentrated in racial generation gap counties and majority-minority counties — which I call


whammy #1. In racial generation gap counties, predominantly White, aging empty nesters make up the majority of the voting age population and the school age population is predominantly non-White. Typically, because older adults usually vote in their own self-interests in electoral matters, there is inadequate political  support for public education in these counties. In majorityminority counties, the adult and school age populations are both predominantly non-White. Typically, due to a weak tax base, there is inadequate financial support for public education in these counties.  At the same time, non-White youth are also highly concentrated in residential neighborhoods characterized by hyper-segregation — which I call whammy #2--and extreme poverty — which I call whammy #3. In hyper-segregated neighborhoods, at least 60 percent of the population is non-White. In extreme poverty neighborhoods, at least 25 percent and typically over 40 percent of the households have incomes below the poverty level.  As Figure 1 shows, these triple whammy counties form an elongated, curvilinear cluster extending from roughly Washington, D.C. southward along the South Atlantic Seaboard to South Florida and then turn westward winding through the Deep South and the Southwest all the way to California. There are also a few isolated clusters in the upper Midwest and the Pacific Northwest, which are mainly American Indian reservations.  How many of America’s youth are affected by these whammies? The answer appears in Table 1.





Source: U.S. Decennial Census, 2010


Table 1: Summary Indicators of Exposure LEVEL OF EXPOSURE



Triple Whammy

9.8 million


Double Whammy

12.2 million


Single Whammy

20.0 million


No Whammy

32.1 million


An estimated 9.3 million of our nation’s youth are affected by all three of these overlapping whammies of geographic disadvantage. These are our most disadvantaged students and the group is 93 percent non-White. These students are at the greatest risk of falling through the cracks of our K-12 public education system and failing to acquire the requisite advanced skills to compete in the unsparing global economy of the 21st century.   There is a second group of students whose situation is not quite as dire but their educational achievements are constrained by a double whammy of sorts — routine exposure to two of the three whammies — hypersegregation and extreme poverty. About 12 million of America’s youth are in this situation and this group is 81 percent non-White. A third group of about 20 million students is hampered by a single whammy — hyper-segregation or extreme poverty. That group is 39 percent non-White and certainly deserves our attention. However, the investments required to improve their educational outcomes are not nearly as great as the resources required to address the educational needs of those exposed to two and all three whammies.   



About 40 percent of our nation’s youth — 32 million — are not hampered by these constraints. Nearly three-quarters of these students are White and 28 percent are non-White. They live in areas of concentrated affluence where the poverty rate is below 25 percent and there are lots of support for their education (see Figure 1). But there is one caveat. Even in these areas of concentrated affluence, the non-White youth are either concentrated in racially isolated schools or under-represented in the college preparatory tracks in the “good” schools. Nowhere perhaps is this triple whammy more apparent than in Shelby County, Tennessee, where Dr. King spent the final moments of his life standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis. Shelby County is a racial generation gap community. A significant proportion of the voters are aging empty-nesters who think they “do not have a dog in the K-12 education fight.” As noted previously, aging empty nesters typically vote self-interest in electoral matters — crime prevention, lower taxes and retirement amenities — and are hesitant to embrace proposals to raise taxes to support public education. In Shelby County, as Figure 2 shows, both hyper-racial segregation and extreme poverty are highly concentrated in the city of Memphis. Beyond the city limits, there are a few high poverty neighborhoods and few mixed neighborhoods that are undergoing racial transition from non-Hispanic White to Black. Shelby County schools are 72 percent non-White and 28 percent White. The population is highly segregated: 71 percent of the White children live in neighborhoods that are 60 percent or more non-Hispanic White and 71 percent of the non-White kids live in neighborhoods that are either predominantly non-White or mixed, that is, transitioning from White to non-White. On top of this hyper-segregation, and further exacerbating





matters, sharp economic disparities exist within the county: over half of the non-White children live in neighborhoods characterized by concentrated poverty (58 percent), while only 14 percent of White children reside in such neighborhoods. Stated in a slightly different way, Shelby County’s concentrated poverty neighborhoods are 92 percent non-White (102,120 children) and 8 percent White (9,319 children). Children from these concentrated poverty neighborhoods are Shelby County’s most vulnerable students. Due to the strong correlation between segregation and poverty, schools where the free and reduced lunch counts are very high are probably the ones that deserve the most urgent attention. If Dr. King were alive today, I believe he would assert that educating these young people is indeed a mission that is possible. However, given the documented uneasiness among non-Hispanic Whites about the “browning” of America, I think he would further assert that it is important to frame their education challenges not solely as social or moral imperatives, but  also, and perhaps more importantly, as competitiveness issues for our nation in the highly volatile global economy of the 21st century. He would note that in the years ahead these young people — the new majority — will have to propel our nation in the international marketplace. Finally, I believe Dr. King would say enhancing educational outcomes for our most vulnerable youth will not only improve the attractiveness of our nation as a place to live and do business; it also will go a long way toward reversing the growing gap between the haves and have-nots in American society by creating prosperity for all.


If Dr. King’s dream is to be fully realized in contemporary America, we must develop an education model that helps our most vulnerable children overcome the debilitating effects of both racial and economic isolation. Most urgently, we must retool the education and training that public school administrators and teachers receive. They must be better prepared to provide our most vulnerable children with the protection, affection, correction and connections that research shows they need to excel in the classroom and beyond. Because this type of enhanced education and training will require additional financial investments in the K-12 education system, it is a strategic imperative to convince aging empty nesters in the U.S. electorate who are driving the “graying” of America that they do have a dog in the K-12 education fight — it is called the future competitiveness of our nation. Conquering these youth challenges will get us a little closer to realizing Dr. King’s dream.



ABOUT JAMES H. JOHNSON, JR. James H. Johnson, Jr. is the William Rand Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and director of the Urban Investment Strategies Center at the Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise. Johnson’s center focuses on innovative approaches to revitalizing urban areas and on teaching government, community and nonprofit leaders and managers to become more entrepreneurial and business-like in their operations and service delivery.   Johnson is an expert on community and economic development, the effects of demographic changes on the U.S. workplace, inter-ethnic minority conflict in advanced industrial societies, urban poverty and  public policy and workforce diversity issues.   He is widely quoted in national media and appears on national network news programs. Fast Company magazine named Johnson one of the “17 brightest thinkers and doers in the new world of work.”  Johnson spent twelve years on the faculty at the University of California, Los Angeles, before coming to UNC-Chapel Hill. He received a B.A. from North Carolina Central University, M.A. from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and Ph.D. from Michigan State University.





EPILOGUE The National Civil Rights Museum designed and developed programming that would remind our nation of the importance of Dr. King’s message in 1968. The issues of poverty, education and jobs were at the core of his work before his untimely and tragic death. Over the course of a two-day symposium, we discussed his work and legacy and ask ourselves how far we’ve come.



Our touchstone was the theme “Where Do We Go from Here?” taken from Dr. King’s final narrative Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? Together with historians, educators and thought leaders we compiled profound discussions on labor and wages, poverty and economic equality and the promise of equal education for all. Our discussions spanned the 50 years since Dr. King’s death, as we looked back at material advancements and insufficient progress since 1968. Although Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka occurred in 1954, our educational systems continue to struggle with segregated classrooms and inequitable educational quality. And while economic gains have occurred for all people, including people of color, the wealth gap has actually increased between people of color and the White community, leaving our country significantly more divided than at the time of the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Despite our setbacks, we have also presented some ambitious young voices of today, filled with an optimistic yearning and energy to answer the call of Dr. King. There is a renewed urgency to choose community over chaos, but it will not be easy. It is through Dr. King’s true legacy that we challenge ourselves, and the broader community, to recognize the “…fierce urgency of now.” It is our hope that this document will encourage you to contribute to Dr. King’s desire for an equitable community that sees inclusion as the important lever to activate our nation’s greatness.


How Far Have We Come?







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ISBN 978-1-7339832-0-4


9 781733 983204


Profile for National Civil Rights Museum

How Far Have We Come?: Dr. King's Legacy in the 21st Century