Hold fast against the assault on Dr. King’s legacy 

By Jesse Jackson 

The 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination comes amid a fierce struggle for the soul of America.

 

We will celebrate the progress that has been made since Dr. King was taken from us in 1968, and decry the agenda that is still unfinished.  But we cannot ignore the systematic effort – from the highest offices of government – to roll back his legacy, to make America more separate and unequal, to reverse the progress of the last years.

 

From the White House and across the great cabinets of the federal government, civil rights are being systematically undermined. President Trump has set the tone personally, slandering immigrants and seeking to ban Muslims, while noting there were “very fine people” among the neo-Nazi marchers in Charlottesville.

 

He pardoned former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, allowing him to avoid accountability for racially profiling Latinos. He terminated the Obama program that protected the DACA children, and sabotaged every bipartisan effort to protect these children who know no other country than the U.S. He called for NFL players protesting against discrimination to be fired, while slurring “s–hole countries” in Africa.

 

In different departments, his appointees have moved relentlessly to roll back enforcement of civil rights, with Attorney General Jeff Sessions leading the way. DOJ lawyers reversed their position on voting rights cases, like that in Texas, essentially opening the door for voter suppression.

 

Sessions forced a review of Obama-era consent decrees with police departments, even as Trump praised brutal police tactics.  He drastically limited the use of court-enforced consent decrees themselves, eviscerating the primary instrument of civil rights enforcement. Sessions has also declared that civil rights laws protecting against workplace discrimination do not apply to transgender workers.

 

His labor secretary disbanded a 40-year-old division enforcing laws against discrimination in the workplace. His education secretary, billionaire Betsy DeVos, disemboweled the department’s office of civil rights and pushed to move public funds to support voucher programs, while calling for deep cuts in the staff and budget of the education department.

 

His secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Dr. Ben Carson, has gutted enforcement of civil rights and fair housing laws, at the very moment the department must disburse billions in disaster recovery Community Block Grants that could help reverse past wrongs. Carson even pushed to strike the words “inclusive” and “free from discrimination” from HUD’s mission statement.

 

Abroad, Trump has expanded the endless wars without victory that King warned against. He has slashed taxes on the wealthy and corporations while targeting basic programs for the vulnerable – from food stamps to Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid – for deep cuts. He sought to repeal Obamacare, which would have deprived millions of health care.

 

This is a direct and sustained assault on Dr. King’s legacy.

 

Dr. King fought for integration against discrimination. He marched for equal opportunity against entrenched inequality. He championed non-violence against violence. He campaigned for voting rights, knowing that democracy offered the best chance for change. He called for an end to the war in Vietnam, realizing that the bombs being dropped on Vietnam were landing in the poor neighborhoods of our cities.

 

At the end of his life, he was organizing a broad coalition of poor people, across lines of race, religion and region, to march on Washington to demand basic economic rights.

 

No representative of the administration will appear in Memphis as we mark the anniversary of his assassination. More reason that a new generation must take up the mission of his life.

 

He taught us that “change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.” He knew that the progress that the Civil Rights Movement was making would generate a fierce reaction. He called on us to “rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful struggle for a new world.”

 

We have work to do. 

 

MLK50: Fifty Years after Kerner and King, Racism Still Matters 

By Derrick Johnson

 

President and CEO, National NAACP 

 

“Segregation and poverty have created in the racial ghetto a destructive environment totally unknown to most white Americans. What white Americans have never fully understood but what the Negro can never forget—is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.”

 

— Report by the Kerner Commission, 1968 

 

Fifty years ago, the nation was rocked by the brutal and public assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Eerily echoing the title of King’s final book “Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?”, his murder sent a powerful shock wave through the soul of America resulting in urban rebellions springing up in over 100 cities and placing the nation at a political and social crossroads.

 

As cities burned with rage at King’s murder, most of America had already dismissed and forgotten the damning and prophetic report published only a month earlier by the presidential commission chaired by Illinois Governor Otto Kerner. Officially called the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, the Kerner Commission identified systemic racism and poverty as the causes of the major Black rebellions in both Newark and Detroit the previous summer. The report warned that America was “moving toward two societies, one black, one white – separate and unequal” and offered concrete suggestions for confronting immediately this “deepening racial division.”

 

However, the Kerner Report’s recommendations for reconciliation and progress were never heeded; in fact, they were actively disregarded. Despite commissioning the report, President Lyndon B. Johnson went out of his way to suppress the spread of its findings. The consequences have been severe: “Whereas the Kerner Commission called for ‘massive and sustained’ investment in economic, employment and education initiatives, over the last 50 years America has pursued ‘massive and sustained’ incarceration framed as ‘law and order,’ while the ‘war on drugs’ has failed,” says a new book, “Healing Our Divided Society,” co-edited by former Sen. Fred Harris, the sole surviving member of the Kerner Commission.

 

Today, many of America’s Black communities bear the sustained scars of physical and economic injuries. Even in Baltimore, the headquartered home of the NAACP, communities are still reeling from the police-custody death of Freddie Gray. The deaths of Black Americans like Michael Brown, Alton Sterling, and, most recently, Stephon Clark—shot eight times by police in his own backyard—remind us we are still not seen as full-citizens by many in our nation.

 

In our recent Economic Inclusion Reports on Baltimore, Charlotte and St. Louis—three cities impacted by protests and revolts linked to police violence and misconduct—the NAACP noted “similarities between the past economic realities of African Americans during Reconstruction and legalized racism and the current economic realities more than 150 years after the abolition of slavery and promise of freedom.”

 

Our reports expose that African Americans are “still living in highly segregated communities and school districts, comprising the lowest median household income, highest unemployment rate, highest poverty rate, and ongoing barriers to the creation of small businesses.” For example, the mid-2000 housing crisis caused by Wall Street excesses led to trillions of dollars in bailouts and the decimation of major portions of African American wealth—wrapped up in their foreclosed homes. This recession removed huge swaths of intergenerational wealth and many families have yet to recover.

 

As the leader of the oldest and largest civil rights organization, I recognize the temporal connection between America’s past and present identities. Our country has let the pestilent wound caused by a continuing legacy of racism fester. This chronic condition is aggravated by the often-silent progressives who still cannot grasp the stark emotional reality of what partial freedom feels like to a full human being.

 

In his commencement address to Oberlin College in 1965, King said, “We must face the honest fact that we still have a long, long way to go before the problem of racial injustice is solved.”

 

Half a century after Kerner’s report and King’s assassination, our government continues to perpetuate an unacceptable level of systemic and structural racism, which permeates our communities and fuels our protest.

 

As we remember King and Kerner, we will not do so in solemn reflection, but instead with resolve. We commit to making the social and political healing America has continued to defer become a reality. The progress for which NAACP members fight rings in harmony with the Kerner Commission’s unapologetic condemnation of White America’s failure to make democracy real for all of us.

 

Derrick Johnson is the president and CEO of the NAACP, America's largest civil rights organization. Follow him on Twitter @DerrickNAACP.

 

  

The Genius of Dr. King – 50 Years Later

 

By Sen. Kamala D. Harris 

 

Last month, in the middle of this incredibly challenging time for our nation, I had the honor of joining Congressman John Lewis for the annual march commemorating the Selma to Montgomery march for voting rights. And as we crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, I thought about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream.

 

It was 50 years ago this week that Dr. King’s life was cut short. But his impact lives on today in countless ways. When we think of the doors of opportunity that have swung open to people of every color, there’s no question Dr. King’s arc of the moral universe has been bent toward justice. But there is no question we have more work to do. When Black unemployment, homeownership, and incarceration rates are the same or worse today than in Dr. King’s day—when the lives of young Black people are ended far too soon and we have a Department of Justice acting more like a Department of Injustice—it is still up to us to make Dr. King’s dream real for every American. 

 

The genius of Dr. King was that he was both aspirational and a realist. He had the deep faith to believe that we could live up to the ideals embodied in the United States Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, that we are all and should be treated as equals. But he also understood that we would not get there overnight or through faith alone. And he was able to help people appreciate how his cause was theirs as well. 

 

Dr. King had the gift of bringing together people from all walks of life to fight for a common cause. Americans from every background—young and old, Black and White, organized labor and civil rights activists, preachers and rabbis—all united behind Dr. King’s vision for justice and equality. Part of his great power was that he understood that if you brought people together, you could succeed in the face of great odds.

 

That’s why, the night he was killed, Dr. King was in Memphis, standing in solidarity with striking African-American city sanitation workers. He championed their right to have a safe workplace, dignified wages, and a decent retirement. Because Dr. King knew that you cannot have equality unless everyone has an equal shot at economic freedom and dignity. As he put it, “What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t have enough money to buy a hamburger?”

 

All across this country, hardworking Americans—regardless of their background—want to know that if they work hard and play by the rules, they’ll have a shot at the American dream. It is up to us to continue that fight.

 

As forces of hate and division seek to divide our country, we must continue to look to Dr. King for inspiration. We must reject the notion that we are a divided country. We must embrace what we have in common and reinforce the broad coalition Dr. King brought together.

 

The way I see it, when any of us wake up at 3am in the morning with something that’s worrying us, we worry about our health, the health of our children, whether we can get and keep a job, whether we can pay off our student loans. Those concerns are common to us all. And all of us can play a role in addressing them.

 

While our world has changed a great deal since Dr. King’s death, certain values have remained constant. Values that tell us we should love thy neighbor, that we should treat each person with dignity and respect, that we should protect everyone’s safety, and that we should promote everyone’s free expression. And these ideals are shared by people all across America.

 

When we look in the mirror, let us think about who we are as a country. Flawed though we may be, we are a great country. But we have to fight for the best of who we are. Fifty years later, Dr. King continues to challenge us. And now is not the time to throw up our hands when we must instead roll up our sleeves. 

 

My dream is that we can recognize that we have more in common than what separates us and come together to achieve the racial and economic justice Dr. King spoke of. That’s my dream. It’s one I’ll continue to fight for. And I hope Americans from every walk of life join in that fight as well. 

 

 

Martin Luther King Jr. Was a Freedom Fighter

 

By Cedric Richmond 

U.S. Congressman (D-LA) 

 

As we commemorate the 50th year since Dr. King was brutally taken from us, let us never forget his relentless fight for freedom. Dr. King is often remembered as a peaceful man concerned about unity above all else. 

As we commemorate this mournful day, I urge Americans to remember that Dr. King was a freedom fighter, fearlessly speaking out against racial and economic injustice, even when those arguments made people uncomfortable.

 

On the night before he was murdered, Dr. King articulated a powerful reminder to the country that Black Americans were only asking for a just position in this society. 50 years later, Dr. King's promised land still eludes us. After making strides as a country, we are obviously moving backwards. Moral leadership from within some of our most treasured institutions has eroded. Institutions erected to address inequality and injustice are being threatened and neutered before our eyes. The gains Dr. King died to achieve are being willfully targeted.

 

The Congressional Black Caucus will not relent in its fearless leadership in defense of the gains Dr. King died for. He died on that hotel balcony because he was fighting for economic opportunity, social justice and fairness. There remains much work to be done to see his dreams actualized. But looking back on his work and his sacrifice, I am hopeful that by working together we can stem the tide of injustice that has been accelerating lately.

 

It is at moments like these we have to remember Dr. King's observation that it was during the greatest darkness that we can see the stars. I am thankful for Dr. King's life, his work and for his sacrifice. He gave his life so that the world might hear his ideas which have served freedom fighters ever since. We will continue to honor his life by educating, legislating and agitating to accomplish his dream of equality and justice.

 

The Congressional Black Caucus was established in 1971 and has a historic 48 members for the 115th Congress, including one Republican member and two senators. Congressman Cedric L. Richmond (D-LA-02) is the chair of the caucus.

Category: Cover Stories


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