Thanks to a positive decision in Sacramento, this is my final article while incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison. Subsequent articles will be from me on parole. Because of the length of this article and the limited space available, the second part will appear in the February edition (Black History Month). My son, Larry Jr., will contribute an article for the March column.
“[Racism] is something that is deeply rooted in our society; it’s deeply rooted in our history.” –Barack Obama
In light of the righteous outrage surrounding successive grand jury decisions not to indict police officers Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo for the killings of two unarmed black men, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, I would be remiss in my responsibilities if I didn’t offer an OG’s perspective on these latest miscarriages of justice.
In the aftermath of Ferguson, let us turn our respectful gaze on the life and struggle of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I was coming of age at the height of Dr. King’s influence, during the time when his dynamic speeches and powerful leadership were constantly in the news, a time when he met with presidents and led marches of thousands. I was 15 years old when he made his electrifying “I Have a Dream” speech at the 1963 historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. In this thrilling speech, what is most quoted and remembered is King’s impassioned articulation of a vision of a “post-racial” world of harmony and economic justice, where a man is judged “not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character.”
King’s “Dream” gives form to hope in a description of human society in which equality and human dignity prevail. His powerful words come from a deep conviction, the same passionate conviction that says all lives matter, and that a free, egalitarian and just society is possible. The hope of that vision reverberates today, and continues to have the capacity to inspire and empower.
“We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force”
However, there are a whole lot of words King speaks before he gets to that utopian dream. He lays out for America the challenges and urgency of the issues at hand, and just why such a dream is so desperately needed. King also taught that there can be no racial reconciliation in this country without the requirements of justice or struggle.
Listen to the prescient words King uttered to the marchers nearly 52 years ago:
“We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.
“It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of (Black’s) legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that (Blacks) needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the (African American) is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.
“But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.
“The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the (Black) community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.
“We cannot walk alone.
“And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.
“We cannot turn back.
“There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, ‘When will you be satisfied?’ We can never be satisfied as long as the (African American) is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality…”
Could this speech be any more pertinent to the issues facing us today, as a movement grows against that self-same racism and police brutality King spoke of a half-century ago? King is remembered for his nonviolence (sometimes scornfully by those who take the view that violence is necessary for social change) and for his Dream, but is he remembered enough for his impassioned plea that “This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.” That “there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the (African American) is granted his citizenship rights.” And the very first violation of those rights Martin Luther King, Jr. names in his famous speech: police brutality.
I’m sure that many of you reading this will agree with King that we must march ahead, that we must not rest until we have reached the goal. But that raises the question: what does marching ahead entail? What work can we put ourselves to that will be most effective in moving forward?
In another, lesser-known speech given in Michigan five years after his Dream speech and just a month before he was murdered, King discussed this. In next month’s (Black History Month) column, we’ll remember what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had to say about moving forward.
END OF PART #1