It says something about the point at which Black people in North America have arrived that some people now take for granted what those who have gone before them fought for with blood, sweat and tears less than two generations ago.
It says something about the fruits of the struggle of African Americans’ fight for equal rights that, at this time in America’s history, Barack Obama is their president.
And it says something about the far-reaching significance of that struggle that although the third Monday in January is a national holiday in the United States to honour the memory and the work of American civil rights leader Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, the day is also recognized here in Toronto.
Most people know of King’s magnificent speech made at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963 before 200,000 who participated in the March for Jobs and Freedom, the culmination of a long campaign to change the laws and put and end to racial segregation.
The 17-minute speech, a potent ‘Sermon on the Mount’, has often been encapsulated in a sound byte of Rev. King telling the world, “I have a dream….” But there is so much more to what he said that day, nearly 48 years ago.
Imagine standing shoulder to shoulder with so many others who became a force for positive change and a force for the emancipation of not only Black people but also a nation imprisoned in a system of apartheid.
Rev. King not only spoke of his dream, he also reminded the people there not to lose their self respect while they fought the good fight.
He said: “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.“
This caution is critical as we witness time and again the violence and the destructive reactions we often direct at each other in our frustration over unfair and unequal treatment directed at us because of the colour of our skin. We do ourselves an absolute disservice when whether literally or figuratively we tear down our house. Such was the case in South Central Los Angeles during the riots of 1992. And such is the case when gangs of youth in our own inner city areas target each other with lethal intent.
Thus the struggle continues not only to bring to terms outside forces that continue a pervasive effort against people of colour, but the struggle continues within the Black community as well. It is that much more of an arduous undertaking when we have not only to advance ourselves against forces from without, but also forces from within.
So we must take seriously Rev. King’s observation during his speech that 1963 was “not an end, but a beginning.” For history shows us that equality for all people is never easily bestowed by those who have power and authority; it is fought for by those who seek it.
So, said Rev. King: “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity.”
What powerful words to return to again and again in order to remain properly oriented about how we need to manage our fate as a people. This is a dream in which we all must share
.A note on not so happy returns…
Like former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto did after years of being in exile, away from her country’s turmoil and, significantly, charges of corruption against her, former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier returned to Haiti 25 years after being pushed out. He now faces charges of corruption and embezzlement. The souls of thousands of Haitians who were murdered during his regime cry out for justice. But will justice this time be fully served?