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Trayvon Martin and the Racial Divide

Imageby Providence Crowder

Like the rest of the country, I’ve been following the Trayvon Martin case and trying to make sense of it all.  And like everyone else, I initially made some pre-judgments of my own based on the small bit of information fed to me through the mainstream media, which has been grossly misleading in its portrayal of both Martin and Zimmerman.  Once again, the media has manipulated our emotions and painted a picture of the worst kind, intentionally meant to heighten racial tensions during this already racially hostile political season.  The implication of racism is so powerful, that the race baiters and political predators, like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, are using Martin’s death for political gain.  Even the President himself—Obama—couldn’t resist the temptation to invoke race in his analysis of the Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman incident, citing that “If I had a son, HE WOULD LOOK LIKE Trayvon.” 

If only the media could have its day in court because it is responsible for continually inciting racism among both blacks and whites.  On one hand, the mainstream media continually portrays blacks as violent criminals, evoking fear and distrust of black people among white Americans.  On the other hand, the media often depicts blacks as victims of white racist police brutality, of course inciting anger, hostility, and distrust of white people and police among blacks.  We know all blacks are not violent criminals and all white police are not racist, but these stories, whether they be true or not, make for the best news and biggest television and newspaper ratings.  I say, shame on the media for its part in hindering race relations in America, and shame on us for allowing the media to play on our worst fears for profit. 

Concerning the death of Trayvon Martin, I believe that this story is tragic for all involved.  Martin’s mother and father have lost their son to violence, and Zimmerman took a human life.  The crossing paths of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin have changed many lives forever.   Because of this senseless tragedy, a community is heartbroken and people all over the country are divided on this issue.  I grieve with the mother of Martin, and the rest of Martin’s family and friends.  I hope and pray that they find peace, and their hearts are comforted as they seek answers to all of their questions. 

As well, I hope and pray that Zimmerman is not unfairly tried in the court of public opinion, and that for his sake and for all’s sake that truth and justice prevails—whatever that truth may be.  I hope and pray that Zimmerman’s friends, his parents, his wife and his children are safe, regardless of the outcome of this debacle; they have already become targets of rage, as organizations such as the New Black Panthers have given a $10, 000 dollar incentive for serious harm to come to Zimmerman and his family when they put out a bounty on “the man who shot Trayvon Martin”—George Zimmerman.   

Yet, this tragedy is not unlike any other.  Trayvon Martin’s die every day!  Thanks to organizations like Planned Parenthood, many Trayvon Martin’s are killed right in their mother’s womb at the hands of abortion doctors in clinics all over America.  As of yet, no arrests have been made.  Many Trayvon Martins are killed in the streets from stray bullets as a result of gang wars.  No arrests.  Many senseless deaths and killings of black, white, brown, and yellow Trayvon Martin’s every day.  To blacks, are we so sensitive towards race and desensitized to violence that only the perception of racism can motivate us to march against violence?  It seems so.

This case is still being investigated and facts are coming out day by day.  Until Zimmerman’s day in court, I pray that calm heads prevail.  I pray for the healing of our nation and call on the violence to stop.  Let us not only be outraged at the death of Trayvon Martin, but every life that is senselessly taken.  From the womb to the tomb, every life is precious.

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Unknown History of Civil Rights

The Unknown History of Civil Rights
By Wynton Hall
Monday, February 4, 2008

Black History Month is about informing citizens of the hurdles and heroes of America’s climb toward civil rights and equality. How interesting, then, that so many race-related political myths continue to be perpetuated by Democrats who know better.

Consider the recent fracas over Senator Hillary Clinton’s contention that President Lyndon Johnson was the driving force behind the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As any fair examination of history reveals, a large share of the legislative credit for the bill’s passage must go to that other senator from Illinois—Republican Minority Leader Everett Dirksen.

Just look at the historical record. As Lyndon Johnson told Hubert Humphrey: “Now you know that bill can’t pass unless you get Ev[erett] Dirksen.”

Indeed, LBJ biographer Robert Caro notes that prior to 1957, Johnson “had never supported civil rights legislation—any civil rights legislation,” including anti-lynching legislation. His private behavior toward blacks was appalling. Robert Parker, LBJ’s longtime black employee and limousine chauffeur, claims that Johsnon blasted him daily with a blizzard of bigoted slurs. And even as LBJ was being praised by liberals for his appointment of Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court, behind closed doors LBJ’s cynical brand of “identity politics” became clear. As presidential historian Robert Dallek recounts, LBJ explained his decision to a staff member by saying, “”Son, when I appoint a nig—r to the court, I want everyone to know he’s a nig—r.”

Still, despite his record and rhetoric, LBJ fought hard to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But those he had to fight against were Democrats, not Republicans. Democrats like former Klansman Senator Robert C. Byrd and others launched a filibuster to kill the Civil Rights bill. The chances of stopping them seemed bleak. Never in the history of the United States Senate had members mustered enough votes to stop a filibuster (a procedure known as “cloture” that requires 67 votes to invoke) on a civil rights bill.

So the Republican Minority Leader Everett Dirksen set out to get the votes necessary to defeat the filibuster. On June 9, 1964, the night before the historic cloture vote, the 68 year old Republican stayed up late into the night typing a speech on twelve sheets of Senate stationery that every American should know but that few do. The next day, Senator Everett Dirksen delivered his oration on the floor of the U.S. Senate just minutes before the final vote. The final tally: 71 to 29, with 27 of the 33 Republicans voting to defeat the Democrat-led filibuster.

Democratic Majority Leader Mike Mansfield said, “This is his [Dirksen] finest hour. The Senate, the whole country is in debt to the Senator from Illinois.” And two days after Dirksen’s speech, Roy Wilkins of the NAACP wrote Dirksen a contrite letter apologizing for their early attacks. “The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People sends its thanks to you for your vote for cloture and for your final speech before the vote,” Wilkins wrote. “Your leadership of the Republican Party in the Senate at this turning point will become a significant part of the history of this century.”Odd, Hillary failed to mention that part.

Indeed, the closer one looks across the arc of black history, the more ironic it seems that voters would associate civil rights with the Democratic Party. Founded as the anti-slavery party, the Republican Party was responsible for winning passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, the Reconstruction Acts, and the 1866, 1875, 1957 and 1960 Civil Rights Acts. In fact, had Democrats not overturned the 1875 Civil Rights Act, the strikingly similar 1964 Civil Rights Act might never have been necessary.

Myriad reasons are often cited for the rift between African American voters and the Republican Party. Some blame Richard Nixon’s so-called “Southern strategy.” Others cite the GOP’s presidential nomination of Barry Goldwater who opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on philosophical grounds of federal overreach. And still others point to a radicalized professoriate as the source of some Americans’ historical amnesia.

Whatever the case, this Black History Month, voters would do well to reexamine the historical record. What they learn just might surprise them.

Wynton Hall is a Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and author of

“The Right Words: Great Republican Speeches That Shaped History”.

 
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Posted by on February 8, 2008 in Education, Politics, Religion

 

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Black Republicans’ Legacy

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By Rev. Dr. Tommy Davis

Reflecting on black history month I care to be reminded of the foundational advancements that clever African-Americans made in our society. Not only were their precedents valuable, they were made in the midst of malicious discrimination and prior to the enactment of some civil rights laws; as in the case of John Hyman, a former slave born in North Carolina who was elected as a Republican to the 44th Congress in March of 1877.   In spite of being sold to slaveholders in Alabama, the Honorable Hyman overcame the disgrace of prior captivity and took on a political career after the culmination of the Civil War. His political influence would surpass ten years.

Further inspiration should be the appointment of Jeremiah Haralson —born a slave on a Georgia plantation in 1846; self educated, yet was elected as a Republican to the 44th Congress in 1875 where he served for two years. This Alabama representative, also a minister, was raised in servitude and did not consider failure as an option.Jefferson Franklin Long, also born a slave on a Georgia plantation in 1836, was elected to the 41st Congress as a Republican in 1870. Who knows, while a slave, whether The Honorable Long thought he would be Georgia’s first black Congressman. 

Edward Brooke, an African-American Republican from Massachusetts, was the first black man elected to the Senate in 1966 by a popular vote even though three centuries had passed since Massachusetts in 1641 was the first colony to legalize the slave trade.   Senator Brooke had also served as attorney general of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts after having been elected in 1962; and then reelected in 1964, the same year of the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

There are many more African-American notables in the archives that would dismantle the contemporary myths that the primary reasons blacks lag behind is due to systemic racism. I see more evidence that would allow me to suppose that some pause at the rear due to erroneous expectations from government intervention coupled with a paternalistic analysis of economics and leadership.The honorable mentioned share some key components. They took responsibility for their lives, obtained an education, and participated in government by becoming a personal contributor to influence change. They understood that by becoming key players in authority they could limit the effects of inequity. The solution here was not additional legislation, but participation in enforcing the laws already on the books. 

When the Republicans sought to protect southern blacks by passing the Civil Rights bill of 1866, they had to override President Johnson’s veto. The same Congress subsequently drafted the Fourteenth Amendment (ratified in 1868) that nullified the Dred Scott decision of 1857 that said slaves nor descendants of liberated slaves could become citizens.

Section Two of the Fourteenth Amendment also terminated the Three-Fifths Compromise that counted five slaves as three persons for the purposes of apportioning the number of representatives to Congress from southern states. Sometime thereafter, in March of 1877, Frederick Douglas who escaped a Maryland plantation, eventually became the first black to receive a chief government appointment by being named U.S. Marshal of the District of Columbia. 

Black history month would serve well as a remembrance of men like Thurgood Marshall, the first black U.S. Supreme Court Justice, and the Honorable Clarence Thomas, our current conservative Bush Sr. appointee, who believed that in order to create a level playing field, we must be in a position to put into effect and translate into reality the principles that would confirm that all men are created equal.  Hence, the primary legacy of black history month should be to accept no excuses for failure and always be determined to become an asset within our communities.

 
 

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Letter From a Birmingham Jail

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Martin Luther King, Jr.

April 16, 1963

MY DEAR FELLOW CLERGYMEN:

While confined here in the Birmingham City Jail, I came across your recent statement calling our present activities “unwise and untimely.” Seldom, if ever, do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would be engaged in little else in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine goodwill and your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I would like to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

I think I should give the reason for my being in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the argument of “outsiders coming in.” I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every Southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty-five affiliate organizations all across the South–one being the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Whenever necessary and possible we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago our local affiliate here in Birmingham invited us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented and when the hour came we lived up to our promises. So I am here, along with several members of my staff, because I have basic organizational ties here.

Beyond this, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the eighth century prophets left their little villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns; and just as the Apostle Paul left his little village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to practically every hamlet and city of the Graeco-Roman world, I too am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my particular home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere in this country.

You deplore the demonstrations that are presently taking place in Birmingham. But I am sorry that your statement did not express a similar concern for the conditions that brought the demonstrations into being. I am sure that each of you would want to go beyond the superficial social analyst who looks merely at effects, and does not grapple with underlying causes. I would not hesitate to say that it is unfortunate that so-called demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham at this time, but I would say in more emphatic terms that it is even more unfortunate that the white power structure of this city left the Negro community with no other alternative.

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: 1) Collection of the facts to determine whether injustices are alive. 2) Negotiation. 3) Self-purification and 4) Direct action. We have gone through all of these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying of the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community.

Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of police brutality is known in every section of this country. Its unjust treatment of Negroes in the courts is a notorious reality. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than any city in this nation. These are the hard, brutal and unbelievable facts. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the political leaders consistently refused to engage in good faith negotiation.

Then came the opportunity last September to talk with some of the leaders of the economic community. In these negotiating sessions certain promises were made by the merchants–such as the promise to remove the humiliating racial signs from the stores. On the basis of these promises Rev. Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to call a moratorium on any type of demonstrations. As the weeks and months unfolded we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. The signs remained. Like so many experiences of the past we were confronted with blasted hopes, and the dark shadow of a deep disappointment settled upon us. So we had no alternative except that of preparing for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and national community. We were not unmindful of the difficulties involved. So we decided to go through a process of self-purification. We started having workshops on nonviolence and repeatedly asked ourselves the questions: “Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?” “Are you able to endure the ordeals of jail?” We decided to set our direct-action program around the Easter season, realizing that with the exception of Christmas, this was the largest shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic withdrawal program would be the by-product of direct action, we felt that this was the best time to bring pressure on the merchants for the needed changes. Then it occurred to us that the March election was ahead and so we speedily decided to postpone action until after election day. When we discovered that Mr. Connor was in the run-off, we decided again to postpone action so that the demonstrations could not be used to cloud the issues. At this time we agreed to begin our nonviolent witness the day after the run-off.

This reveals that we did not move irresponsibly into direct action. We too wanted to see Mr. Connor defeated; so we went through postponement after postponement to aid in this community need. After this we felt that direct action could be delayed no longer.

You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches, etc.? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are exactly right in your call for negotiation. Indeed, this is the purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. I just referred to the creation of tension as a part of the work of the nonviolent resister. This may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word tension. I have earnestly worked and preached against violent tension, but there is a type of constructive nonviolent tension that is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must see the need of having nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men to rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. So the purpose of the direct action is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. We, therefore, concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in the tragic attempt to live in monologue rather than dialogue.

One of the basic points in your statement is that our acts are untimely. Some have asked, “Why didn’t you give the new administration time to act?” The only answer that I can give to this inquiry is that the new Birmingham administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one before it acts. We will be sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Mr. Boutwell will bring the millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is much more articulate and gentle than Mr. Connor, they are both segregationists, dedicated to the task of maintaining the status quo. The hope I see in Mr. Boutwell is that he will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from the devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. History is the long and tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups are more immoral than individuals.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have never yet engaged in a direct action movement that was “well timed,” according to the timetable of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the words [sic]”Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

We have waited for more than three hundred and forty years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jet-like speed toward the goal of political independence, and we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward the gaining of a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tip-toe stance never quite knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”; then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, it is rather strange and paradoxical to find us consciously breaking laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: There are just and there are unjust laws. I would agree with Saint Augustine that “An unjust law is no law at all.”

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of Saint Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority, and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. To use the words of Martin Buber, the Jewish philosopher, segregation substitutes and “I-it” relationship for an “I-thou” relationship, and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. So segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, but it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Isn’t segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, an expression of his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? So I can urge men to disobey segregation ordinances because they are morally wrong.

Let us turn to a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a majority inflicts on a minority that is not binding on itself. This is difference made legal. On the other hand a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal.

Let me give another explanation. An unjust law is a code inflicted upon a minority which that minority had no part in enacting or creating because they did not have the unhampered right to vote. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up the segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout the state of Alabama all types of conniving methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters and there are some counties without a single Negro registered to vote despite the fact that the Negro constitutes a majority of the population. Can any law set up in such a state be considered democratically structured?

These are just a few examples of unjust and just laws. There are some instances when a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I was arrested Friday on a charge of parading without a permit. Now there is nothing wrong with an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade, but when the ordinance is used to preserve segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and peaceful protest, then it becomes unjust.

I hope you can see the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law as the rabid segregationist would do. This would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do it openly, lovingly, (not hatefully as the white mothers did in New Orleans when they were seen on television screaming “nigger, nigger, nigger”) and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that 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 law.

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was seen sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar because a higher moral law was involved. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks, before submitting to certain unjust laws of the Roman empire. To a degree academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience.

We can never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. But I am sure that if I had lived in Germany during that time I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers even though it was illegal. If I lived in a Communist country today where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I believe I would openly advocate disobeying these anti-religious laws. I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice, and that when they fail to do this they become dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is merely a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, where the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substance-filled positive peace, where all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured as long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its pus-flowing ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must likewise be exposed, with all of the tension its exposing creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

In your statement you asserted that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But can this assertion be logically made? Isn’t this like condemning the robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn’t this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical delvings precipitated the misguided popular mind to make him drink the hemlock? Isn’t this like condemning Jesus because His unique God-Consciousness and never-ceasing devotion to His will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, that it is immoral to urge an individual to withdraw his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest precipitates violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber.

I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth of time. I received a letter this morning from a white brother in Texas which said: “All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great of a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost 2000 years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.” All that is said here grows out of a tragic misconception of time. It is the the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually time is neutral. It can be used either destructively or constructively. I am coming to feel that the people of ill-will have used time much more effectively than the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people. We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy, and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

You spoke of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of the extremist. I started thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency made up of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, have been so completely drained of self-respect and a sense of “somebodiness” that they have adjusted to segregation, and, of a few Negroes in the middle class who, because of a degree of academic and economic security, and because at points they profit by segregation, have unconsciously become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness, and hatred comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up over the nation, the largest and best-known being Elijah Muhammad’s Muslim movement. This movement is nourished by the contemporary frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination. It is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incurable “devil.” I have tried to stand between these two forces saying that we need not follow the “do-nothingism” of the complacent or the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. There is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest. I’m grateful to God that, through the Negro church, the dimension of nonviolence entered our struggle. If this philosophy had not emerged, I am convinced that by now many streets of the South would be flowing with floods of blood. And I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as “rabble rousers” and “outside agitators” those of us who are working through the channels of nonviolent direct action and refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes, out of frustration and despair, will seek solace and security in black-nationalist ideologies, a development that will lead inevitably to a frightening racial nightmare.

Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The urge for freedom will eventually come. This is what happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom; something without has reminded him that he can gain it. Consciously and unconsciously, he has been swept in by what the Germans call the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa, and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, he is moving with a sense of cosmic urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. Recognizing this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand public demonstrations. The Negro has many pent up resentments and latent frustrations. He has to get them out. So let him march sometime; let him have his prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; understand why he must have sit-ins and freedom rides. If his repressed emotions do not come out in these nonviolent ways, they will come out in ominous expressions of violence. This is not a threat; it is a fact of history. So I have not said to my people “get rid of your discontent.” But I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channelized through the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. Now this approach is being dismissed as extremist. I must admit that I was initially disappointed in being so categorized.

But as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist. Was not Jesus an extremist for love — “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice — “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ — “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist — “Here I stand; I can do none other so help me God.” Was not John Bunyan an extremist — “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” Was not Abraham Lincoln an extremist — “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” Was not Thomas Jefferson an extremist — “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” So the question is not whether we will be extremist but what kind of extremist will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice–or will we be extremists for the cause of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill, three men were crucified. We must not forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thusly fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. So, after all, maybe the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

I had hoped that the white moderate would see this. Maybe I was too optimistic. Maybe I expected too much. I guess I should have realized that few members of a race that has oppressed another race can understand or appreciate the deep groans and passionate yearnings of those that have been oppressed and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action. I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still all too small in quantity, but they are big in quality. Some like Ralph McGill, Lillian Smith, Harry Golden and James Dabbs have written about our struggle in eloquent, prophetic and understanding terms. Others have marched with us down nameless streets of the South. They have languished in filthy roach-infested jails, suffering the abuse and brutality of angry policemen who see them as “dirty nigger lovers.” They, unlike so many of their moderate brothers and sisters, have recognized the urgency of the moment and sensed the need for powerful “action” antidotes to combat the disease of segregation.

Let me rush on to mention my other disappointment. I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership. Of course, there are some notable exceptions. I am not unmindful of the fact that each of you has taken some significant stands on this issue. I commend you, Rev. Stallings, for your Christian stand on this past Sunday, in welcoming Negroes to your worship service on a non-segregated basis. I commend the Catholic leaders of this state for integrating Spring Hill College several years ago.

But despite these notable exceptions I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say that as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say it as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.

I had the strange feeling when I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery several years ago, that we would have the support of the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be some of our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of the stained-glass windows.

In spite of my shattered dreams of the past, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause, and with deep moral concern, serve as the channel through which our just grievances would get to the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed. I have heard numerous religious leaders of the South call upon their worshippers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers say, “follow this decree because integration is morally right and the Negro is your brother.” In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churches stand on the sideline and merely mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard so many ministers say, “Those are social issues with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched so many churches commit themselves to a completely other-worldly religion which made a strange distinction between body and soul, the sacred and the secular.

So here we are moving toward the exit of the twentieth century with a religious community largely adjusted to the status quo, standing as a tail-light behind other community agencies rather than a headlight leading men to higher levels of justice.

I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at her beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlay of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over again I have found myself asking: “What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave the clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when tired, bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?”

Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment, I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church; I love her sacred walls. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great-grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period when the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But they went on with the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” and had to obey God rather than man. They were small in number but big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” They brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest.

Things are different now. The contemporary church is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are.

But the judgement of God is upon the church as never before. If the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. I am meeting young people every day whose disappointment with the church has risen to outright disgust.

Maybe again, I have been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to status-quo to save our nation and the world? Maybe I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ecclesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom. They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone through the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have been kicked out of their churches, and lost support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have gone with the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. These men have been the leaven in the lump of the race. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the Gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope though the dark mountain of disappointment.

I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are presently misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with the destiny of America. Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched across the pages of history the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence, we were here. For more than two centuries our fore-parents labored in this country without wages; they made cotton king; and they built the homes of their masters in the midst of brutal injustice and shameful humiliation–and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands.

I must close now. But before closing I am impelled to mention one other point in your statement that troubled me profoundly. You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for keeping “order” and “preventing violence.” I don’t believe you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its angry violent dogs literally biting six unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I don’t believe you would so quickly commend the policemen if you would observe their ugly and inhuman treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you would watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you would see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys; if you will observe them, as they did on two occasions, refuse to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together. I’m sorry that I can’t join you in your praise for the police department.

It is true that they have been rather disciplined in their public handling of the demonstrators. In this sense they have been rather publicly “nonviolent”. But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of segregation. Over the last few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. So I have tried to make it clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. Maybe Mr. Connor and his policemen have been rather publicly nonviolent, as Chief Pritchett was in Albany, Georgia, but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of flagrant racial injustice. T. S. Eliot has said that there is no greater treason than to do the right deed for the wrong reason.

I wish you had commended the Negro sit-inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of the most inhuman provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, courageously and with a majestic sense of purpose, facing jeering and hostile mobs and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy-two year old woman of Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride the segregated buses, and responded to one who inquired about her tiredness with ungrammatical profundity; “my feet is tired, but my soul is rested.” They will be the young high school and college students, young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders courageously and nonviolently sitting-in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience’s sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters they were in reality standing up for the best in the American dream and the most sacred values in our Judaeo-Christian heritage, and thusly, carrying our whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in the formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Never before have I written a letter this long, (or should I say a book?). I’m afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else is there to do when you are alone for days in the dull monotony of a narrow jail cell other than write long letters, think strange thoughts, and pray long prayers?

If I have said anything in this letter that is an overstatement of the truth and is indicative of an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything in this letter that is an understatement of the truth and is indicative of my having a patience that makes me patient with anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.

I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil rights leader, but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood,

Martin Luther King, Jr.

© Estate of Martin Luther King, Jr.
 

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Black Colleges

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 Dr. Walter E. Williams

The Lincoln Review, a Washington-based black think tank, published an article titled “What Does the Future Hold for Historically Black Colleges?” in its September/October 2007 edition. It recalled the experiences of Bill Maxwell, a St. Petersburg Times columnist and editorial board member, when in 2004 he took a huge pay cut to teach journalism at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

He wanted to fulfill a promise he made to professors who taught him during the 1960s at Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, and Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, two historically black colleges. He was in for surprise and disappointment.

Professor Maxwell recalls his experiences in the St. Petersburg Times. The first column, “I had a dream” (www.sptimes.com/2007/05/13/Opinion/I_had_a_dream.shtml) discusses the non-academic environment at Stillman College. His first day in his English class, Maxwell had to shout to get the class to come to order. He assigned a 500-word essay. When he read the essays, he said, “During my 18 years of previous college teaching, I had never seen such poor writing — sentence fragments, run-on sentences, misspellings, wrong words and illogical word order.” One paper read: “In my high school, prejudism were bad and people feel like nothing.” In another: “Central High kids put there nose in other people concern.”

Maxwell says that only a few students bothered to take lecture notes. He had to teach basic grammar lessons and teach students how to use a dictionary, lessons that should have been learned in elementary or junior high school. The college issued free laptops to students who maintained a passing grade-point average. Some used their computers in class for text messaging. When Maxwell confronted the students, he was met with hostility. A few students left during class to make calls or send text messages. Two female professors were threatened by two male students when they were told to put away their laptops in class.

Professor Maxwell’s second column, “A dream lay dying” relates more of his experiences at Stillman (www.sptimes.com/2007/05/20/Opinion/A_dream_lay_dying.shtml). He recalls, “. . . nothing was more appalling than the students’ disregard for college property.” He recalls the time when the Tuscaloosa Fire Department had to put out trash can fires in King Hall, saying, “I was angry and embarrassed to see a team of white firefighters trying to save a dormitory named for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. that black students had trashed.” A white firefighter asked him, “Why do they do this to their own buildings?” Touring the building, Maxwell said that even without the fire it looked like a war zone. “Holes had been kicked and punched in the walls. Windows were broken, floors were scarred and most of the furniture was damaged. The two dorms routinely underwent major repairs after each semester.”

A week before leaving Stillman for good, Maxwell saw a group of male students who habitually hung out in front of King Hall. He approached the group and asked, “Why don’t you all hang out somewhere else?” “Who you talking to, old nigger?” one replied. Maxwell said, “You give the school a bad image out here.” They laughed and dismissed him with stylized waves of the arm.

At a time of gross discrimination, black colleges were crucial. Their graduates played a vital role in the unprecedented socioeconomic progress made by black Americans. Today, there’s a question about the value of most, but not all, black colleges. According to the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, the 2005 graduation rates at black colleges ranged from a high of 77 percent at Spelman College to a low of 7 percent at the University of the District of Columbia. Only seven black colleges, out of 53 listed, had a graduation rate of higher than 50 percent. Given these numbers, the preparation and performance of students at most black colleges, one has ask whether these colleges have outlived their usefulness.

Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University. To find out more about Walter E. Williams and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

 
 

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