In less than two weeks our Nation will commemorate the 1963 March on Washington. I am sure that for most members of your generation, if the March can be recalled at all, it has been in connection with the “I have a Dream Speech” of Dr. Martin Luther King. That speech and the March itself constituted a demand of America and a challenge to Americans to abolish the remnants of slavery and the virulence of Jim Crow. Do we think of slavery and Jim Crow as forms of terror? Could these forms of American economic, political and social organization be maintained without the imposition of paralyzing fear? Was the law on the side of the terror or of Black Americans, the objects of the terror? Dr. King and those who organized the March were seeking “equality” and “inclusion” in the mainstream of American life for Black Americans. Were they also not demonstrating their freedom from the paralysis and immorality of fear itself?
Do you think that Black Americans have achieved the equality and inclusion they sought in the 1963 March? Do you think that the March organizers of today will make the same demands as those of 1963? Do you think that the organizers of the March will challenge our government and all Americans to redress the social and economic depression of our soldiers, workers and students? Are Black Americans a significant segment of each of these three groups of Americans?
On April 4, 1967, Dr. King gave another speech, now as a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, at the Riverside Church in New York. His remarks were directed at the immorality and violence of our war in Vietnam. When you listen to or read the speech can you see the similarities between our American Empire’s actions in Vietnam and our actions in Iraq and Afghanistan? What would Dr. King think of the participation and leadership of Black Americans in instituting and perpetuating these wars? Can Black Americans now fairly complain of exclusion when they are now so much the face of the Empire? Their faces are not confined to the Pentagon and White House; they are also on the television news and entertainment screens that anesthetize us 24 hours a day, in the popular culture that deludes us and in the extremely profitable guard towers that imprison us. Let’s see how the new March handles the issues of inclusion and complicity.
James Baldwin foresaw the dilemma of Black Americans in the “Fire Next Time” when he asked: “Do I really want to be integrated into a burning house?”
Martin Luther King would look at that house perhaps in the same way, but he would rebuild it. This is what he said at Riverside:
“A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”
Let’s remember the “need for restructuring” as we leave the security that Americans need and deserve and focus on how to prepare your generation to provide it for Friday.