Off the Wall 21/1/15
On Monday 19th January, the United States of America held her annual commemoration of the life and work of martyred civil rights activist, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As part of my reflection on the legacy of Rev. Dr. King, who incorporated Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent approach to combatting the gross inequality and oppression of African-Americans, I listened to a recently discovered recording of Rev. Dr. King giving a major address in London on December 7, 1964. This address, given just days before he received the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, was on segregation, the fight for civil rights and his support for Nelson Mandela and the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa.
The speech was recorded by Saul Bernstein, who was working as the European correspondent for Pacifica Radio. Bernstein’s recording was recently discovered by Brian DeShazor, director of the Pacifica Radio Archives. Those who have internet access may listen to this speech at: http://www.democracynow.org/2015/1/19/exclusive_newly_discovered_1964_mlk_speech.
King’s response to the often-asked question of whether there was any real progress in the struggle to make racial justice a reality in the United States of America was, “We have come a long, long way, but we have a long, long way to go before the problem is solved.”
Speaking on the justification given to slavery that brought captive Africans to America King said, “There were those who even misused the Bible and religion to give some justification for slavery and to crystallize the patterns of the status quo. And so it was argued from some pulpits that the Negro was inferior by nature because of Noah’s curse upon the children of Ham. Then, the apostle Paul’s dictum became a watchword: "Servants be obedient to your master."”
This he said led to the reasoning that if “all men are made in the image of God” and “God, as everybody knows, is not a Negro, therefore the Negro is not a man.”
He continued, “While living with the conditions of slavery and then, later, segregation, many Negroes lost faith in themselves. Many came to feel that perhaps they were less than human. Many came to feel that they were inferior. This, it seems to me, is the greatest tragedy of slavery, the greatest tragedy of segregation, not merely what it does to the individual physically, but what it does to one psychologically. It scars the soul of the segregated as well as the segregator. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority, while leaving the segregated with a false sense of inferiority. And this is exactly what happened.”
Over time, King added, “The Negro came to feel that he was somebody. His religion revealed to him that God loves all of his children and that all men are made in his image, and that the basic thing about a man is not his specificity, but his fundamentum, not the texture of his hair or the color (sic) of his skin, but his eternal dignity and worth.”
While celebrating the passing of the Civil Rights Bill just 5 months earlier, King noted that while segregation was “on its deathbed”, it still needed to be dealt with in a determined way.
“But certainly, we all know that if democracy is to live in any nation, segregation must die. And as I’ve tried to say all over America, we’ve got to get rid of segregation not merely because it will help our image—it certainly will help our image in the world. We’ve got to get rid of segregation not merely because it will appeal to Asian and African people—and this certainly will be helpful, this is important. But in the final analysis, racial discrimination must be uprooted from American society and from every society, because it is morally wrong. So it is necessary to go all out and develop massive action programs to get rid of racial segregation.”
“And somewhere along the way it is necessary to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be co-workers with God. And without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. And so we must help time, and we must realize that the time is always ripe to do right. This is so vital, and this is so necessary.”
King challenged those listening to remain “mal-adjusted” or uncomfortable with the issues affecting society.
“I must honestly say to you that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation, discrimination, colonialism and these particular forces. I must honestly say to you that I never intend to adjust myself to religious bigotry. I must honestly say to you that I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I must say to you tonight that I never intend to become adjusted to the madness of militarism and the self-defeating effects of physical violence… And through such maladjustment, we will be able to emerge from the long and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice.”
May I say to you that I still believe that mankind will rise up to the occasion. In spite of the darkness of the hour, in spite of the difficulties of the moment, in spite of these days of emotional tension, when the problems of the world are gigantic in extent and chaotic in detail, I still have faith in the future, and I still believe that we can build this society of brotherhood and this society of peace.”
“With this faith, we will be able to adjourn the counsels of despair and bring new light into the dark chambers of pessimism. With this faith, we will be able to transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of peace and brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to speed up the day when all of God’s children—black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, Hindus and Muslims, theists and atheists—will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"
King concluded, “We have a long, long way to go before this problem is solved, but thank God we’ve made strides. We’ve come a long, long way, before I close by quoting the words of an old Negro slave preacher, who didn’t quite have his grammar and diction right, but who uttered words of great symbolic profundity: "Lord, we ain’t what we want to be. We ain’t what we ought to be. We ain’t what we gonna be. But, thank God, we ain’t what we was."
“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”