Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was more than a dreamer. He was a man who had the will to carry a light in the darkness.
The champion of human and civil rights, the great drum major for justice, carried the will to love, even through a time of pure and unbearable hate.
What did King love? Justice, most which is why he loved the poor, disenfranchised Black people in America, who suffered injustice, and he put his life on the line for them.
Using love to uplift his people proved a difficult task to accomplish in an era where such things as Jim Crow laws existed to produce an inferiority complex in Black people.
They were hung, tortured, blown up, disrespected, and humiliated in front of the entire world. King had done something that forever engraved his name as a paradigm in history. He showed a people that had been destroyed mentally and physically the strength of will.
“He understood where we would be. He fought for voting rights, access to housing and empowering the disenfranchised,” said Pastor William Smart, president/CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Los Angeles.
“Toward the end of his young life, he was moving into economic empowerment for people, talk about the poor people’s march … jobs … the right for a union and sanitation workers, and so his legacy is that he understood a gradual process for people for Black people and the last one is where we are today where the wealth gap is so tremendous that it’s killing African Americans,” Smart said.
The average Black family has $5,000 worth of wealth, while the average White family has over $100,000 worth of wealth, Smart said, citing research by the Pew Foundation.
“I think that we’re in a moment of crisis right now,” said Donna Murch, Associate Professor, Department of History at Rutgers State University of New Jersey.
That crisis includes President-Elect Donald Trump and the threat he poses for the country, for Black Americans, for all Americans, for Latinos, immigrants, queer people, women of all colors, and more, she told the Sentinel.
She said King has multiple legacies, which includes the beloved community of the civil rights movement, but also, the radical King that stood up in 1967 and publicly opposed the Vietnam War.
“That was a very important turning point for Dr. King … He talked about the inherent violence of the United States and the violence of its foreign policy and how violence at home is linked to the violence abroad,” Murch said.
She continued, “I think Dr. King has to be a living legacy for us. One of the problems is that the image of Dr. Martin Luther King has been appropriated by advertising by Apple Computer, even by the right wing by Newt Gingrich, many of the kind of White Supremacists Republicans of this era have appropriated the image of Dr. King, but I think it’s really important that we maintain the real living memory of Dr. King, and that lives on not only through the footage of him speaking, but through the words themselves, going back and reading his speeches, reading ‘Letters from a Birmingham Jail.’”
Reflection on King’s legacy in 2017 also demands people reach high and proceed in life with excellence, according to Dr. Rosie Milligan, nationally acclaimed author, lecturer and radio show host.
“People don’t talk enough about how he spoke about excellence. Whatever you’re doing, do it to the best,” she said.
She feels that is one message youth must receive today. “Do not be ashamed of whatever position you hold. What he was trying to say is it takes everything that we do to make a whole, and whatever position that you hold in this life, he wanted us to know that it was important, and to do it with all of your might, just as if you were the president of the United States,” Milligan said.
That would foster better Black businesses, and unity in brother and sisterhoods. “His belief was very true that if there is no peace for one, there will be no peace for none, because we are really in this thing together,” she added.
King realized that the kingdom of God could not be established with the American government that still lacked the ability to give justice to Blacks in America.
In his last conversation with the great entertainer/humanitarian Harry Belafonte, King stated, “I’ve come upon something that disturbs me deeply. We have fought hard and long for integration, as I believe we should have, and I know we will win. But I have come to believe that we are integrating into a burning house. I’m afraid that America has lost the moral vision she may have had. And I’m afraid that even as we integrate, we are walking into a place that does not understand that this nation needs to be deeply concerned with the plight of the poor and disenfranchised. Until we commit ourselves to ensuring that the underclass is given justice and opportunity, we will continue to perpetuate the anger and violence that tears the soul of this nation. I fear I am integrating my people into a burning house.”
Integration did not mean justice. His love for seeing the justice of his people never changed and King kept his discipline toward that end, even after the Civil Rights Bill eventually passed.
He soon realized that since America had lost her moral vision, and began urging Blacks to build their own economic engine independent of the “burning house” so they could become a respected power.
In a powerful movement-starting speech delivered before he was assassinated (“I Have Been to the Mountain Top”), King urged Blacks to anchor their external direct action with the power of economic withdrawal.
“Now, we are poor people. Individually, we are poor when you compare us with White society in America. We are poor. Never stop and forget that collectively — that means all of us together — collectively we are richer than all the nations in the world, with the exception of nine. Did you ever think about that? After you leave the United States, Soviet Russia, Great Britain, West Germany, France, and I could name the others, the American Negro collectively is richer than most nations of the world. We have an annual income of more than thirty billion dollars a year, which is more than all of the exports of the United States, and more than the national budget of Canada. Did you know that? That’s power right there, if we know how to pool it.”
King sought to make Blacks in America a nation that would no longer be disrespected again. His words were not empty words, though it may have been perceived that the above-mentioned part of his “I Have Been to the Mountain Top” message was forgotten, but the torch was picked up by another man.
Farrakhan picked up where King left off in his quest for justice through economic withdrawal to redistribute the pain.
“Justice is the principle of fair dealing,” said Farrakhan as he lifted King and his call for economic boycott.
In 2015, Farrakhan called for “Justice Or Else” during the 20th Anniversary of the historic Million Man March (gathering of two million Black men in Washington, D.C. for reparations, reconciliation, and atonement).
Key elements of Justice Or Else are economic boycotts and to redistribute money saved into Black businesses.
The boycotts for economic withdrawal for the past two years have been successful and as a result, numerous big name stores have had to close down in several locations.
King may have been killed by an assassin’s bullet, but the substance of his message will never die or be forgotten.
His legacy will live on in the movement it sparked.
(Jabril Muhammad of Oakland, CA contributed to this report.)