On June 14, 1965, Martin Luther King Jr gave the commencement address at Oberlin College. It had been two years after his iconic 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington, and this oratory was meant to keep young Americans engaged and encouraged in a civil rights battle that was beginning to drag.
Entitled “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” King’s speech lays out the three rules for winning the civil rights movement. He says, in short, 1) the globalized world has become a neighborhood; we must make it a brotherhood; 2) we must eradicate racial discrimination, a note to which I added economic, gendered and sexual, all three of which I am sure King would support; and, 3), we must approach rivals with non-violence. Dr. King of course was far more elegant, eloquent and masterful, so, without further ado, a truncated text version of MLK Jr.’s…
This terrifying sculpture is in Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham, Alabama. Its power lies in the fact that the path passes between these raging dogs, and by walking along it you have to pass between these ferocious but inanimate canines.
Now just imagine they are real.
On May 2nd, 1963, more than 1,000 African American teenagers assembled at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church across the road, and prepared to march to Birmingham’s City Hall in support of the civil rights movement. The following day, “Bull” Connor, Commissioner for Public Safety, ordered police, dog handlers and firemen to the park.
When the protestors entered the park and refused to leave, water cannons were turned on them, knocking them to the ground. German shepherd dogs were directed towards the crowd, their handlers commanding them to attack. This, and the police brutality towards these teenage protesters, shocked America and the world.
Wednesday’s 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King in Memphis, Tennessee, led me to reflect on our recent brief visit to that city, as part of a road trip taking in some of the Deep South states.
It was clear from the places we’d visited along the way that the local economies are not working well in these states, and the anti-discriminatory process accelerated by King in the 1960s is by no means yet finished (just listen to some of those speeches from Memphis last Wednesday). Both were probably factors in the election of President Trump.
Yet Memphis is a good place to visit, with music in its soul, exemplified by swinging Beale Street, exuding a similar atmosphere to the French Quarter in New Orleans. We loved taking in a drink and meal at BB King’s bar, with sound levels almost tolerable to sensitive ears.
We found plenty of attractions suitable for children, including an excellent Fire Museum, which kept children and adults alike engaged with informative and entertaining exhibits.
Of course, Memphis exists because of the great old lady Mississippi (featured image shows bridge, taken from the top of the Memphis Pyramid, now a megastore). The city was frequently visited by Mark Twain during his period as a pilot on the Mississippi, documented in his book Life on the Mississippi.
There’s also a guy called Elvis associated with Memphis. We got taken to his birthplace but somehow managed to avoid Graceland.
Birmingham (Burr-ming-HAM) Alabama is renowned for its role in the civil rights campaigns of the 1960s, that were spearheaded by Martin Luther King Jr. In 1963 there was the bombing by the Ku Klux Klan of the 16th Street Baptist church that was at the heart of the movement, 4 little girls were killed. Birmingham police with dogs and water cannon attacked defenceless crowds, including children, in the nearby park. All this was orchestrated by the renowned mayor Bull O’Connor. I remember it all so well from the UK media of that time.
That park (Kelly Ingram Park) is now a moving memorial to these events, with a number of evocative statues. Near the entrance are statues to the four little girls, and to King himself.Read More »
It strikes a particular chord with me having just watched the gripping film Darkest Hour, which portrays Winston Churchill working his way towards the vision that he ultimately expressed to parliament and the British people, inspiring them to resist the Nazi tyranny.
Cassandra Vieten of IONS has published an excellent post Creating an Inspiring Vision for Our Future, which indicates the importance of a vision that will inspire people on the way forward to a better world. She refers to the example of Dr Martin Luther King, whose inspiration continues to motivate people today. Vieten says
In his book “Stride Toward Freedom,” King noted that the outcome of nonviolent resistance was the Beloved Community – not an idealistic utopia free from conflict, but a community ruled by agape which he described as “understanding, redeeming goodwill for all,” or an “overflowing love which is purely spontaneous, unmotivated, groundless and creative.” He said
“It is this type of spirit, and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.”
In these divided Brexit / Trump times, how the UK and US need to transform the current deep gloom of the divisive old age into the ‘exuberant gladness of a new age’. How could it be other than a vision based on agape?
Resurgence and Ecologist magazine is now in its 50th year, and its evergreen chief editor Satish Kumar is in his 80th year. In the May/June 2016 issue he reminded me of the significance of MK Gandhi’s concept of satyagraha, which can be roughly translated as non-violence, but in an active way that refuses to submit to wrong or co-operate with it in any way, with a dedication to truth. This is similar to the reasonably successful approach of Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement in USA.Read More »