Sunday, January 19, 2014

Celebrating M.L. King's Birthday

Remembering King and The 'Fierce Urgency Of Now'
By E. Ethelbert Miller

Martin Luther King Jr. may be best remembered for his "I Have a Dream" moment, but too often overlooked are his efforts to fight poverty in America. Essayist E. Ethelbert Miller says that this Monday, we should remember King in his full context. His messages are relevant even — or especially — in 2010.

Back in the old days of vinyl albums and those sweet 45s, there was often a flip side of a hit song that you wanted to dance to more than anything else. It was the side not played on the radio but instead hummed perhaps during the privacy of one's shower.

When I listen to Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, I'm always curious as to why many of us overlook the opening statements of his 1963 address. It's as if we only hear one side of his speech. Why do we quickly repeat the words "I have a dream," and not the words "America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked 'insufficient funds.' But we refuse to believe the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation."

The fierce urgency of now is what Martin Luther King mentioned back in 1963. But how long is now?

I feel these words by King are also inspiring. King spoke of a debt before he spoke of the dream. This is important to remember because it shows his focus on economic conditions and problems in America. King was concerned not only with fighting segregation and discrimination, but also with fighting poverty. During his last year he was organizing a poor people's campaign to come to Washington, D.C.

It was the labor demands of sanitation workers that encouraged him to travel to Memphis in 1968. King knew it took hard work to fulfill a dream.

In 2010, poverty can disguise itself by hiding behind unemployment lines, housing foreclosures and the inability of a young person to afford a college education. When we look around our nation, many businesses are suffering from insufficient funds, as are too many families.

Once again, we wonder if the great vaults of America are still rich with opportunities for everyone.

The "fierce urgency of now" is what King mentioned back in 1963. But how long is "now"? Every year we cling dearly to the last lines of King's speech — because of their poetic beauty. King's words echo those of Langston Hughes and Walt Whitman. I believe he heard America singing.

Our hearts today are too large to simply contain sorrow songs and blues. In 2010, we need to know which side of the record is playing — the dream or the debt. When we celebrate King's birthday, we shouldn't just remember and examine one speech. The man, the minister, the prophet is too complex for that. Yet his "I Have a Dream" speech should be understood in its entirety. Next to his speeches, we should place his sermons. Here we will find King's compassion for his fellow man. Here we will continue to discover words that will provide us with the strength to love.

January 17, 2010

E. Ethelbert Miller is the board chairman of the Institute for Policy Studies. He has been the director of the African American Resource Center at Howard University since 1974. Miller is a former chairman of the Humanities Council of Washington, D.C., and a former core faculty member of the Bennington Writing Seminars at Bennington College. He is the editor of Poet Lore and the author of several collections of poetry and two memoirs. NPR

* * * * *

Black Knight
By Latorial Faison

He stands tall
like a giant Sequoia
in the California sun
I look at him
and I see
Black knight
the waters of his ebony eyes
like the sacred waters
of the Nile
his teeth
beautiful as ivory
his skin
smooth and tight
standing tall
like a mighty pyramid
Black knight

LATORIAL FAISON is an American poet, author, educator, and speaker who studied English Literature and Religion at the University of Virginia and completed graduate studies in English at Virginia Tech. Faison, the author of six books, has been published widely in the US and abroad. Her poetry and prose have been featured in Southern Women's Review, Blackberry, ChickenBones, Stars and Stripes, the Voices Project, Kalyani, Freedom Verse, OF ZOOS, and the NAACP Image Award winning book Keeping the Faith: Stories of Love, Courage, Healing, and Hope from Black America. Faison has forthcoming publications in Typehouse Journal, Deep South Magazine, and Three Minus One. Faison is an English Professor teaching in South Korea. Visit her online at

* * * *

SMU alumni remember a visit by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
By Melissa Repko

Student senator Charles Cox, one of three students on the stage, said King’s voice “just mesmerized you.”

“I remember being so incredibly impressed with his speaking abilities,” said Cox, 68, a retired Methodist minister. “He spoke for about 60 minutes, and he didn’t have a single note.”

By the end of the speech, a tearful Clements embraced Tate and told him that if SMU got blowback to send any complaints to him, Shields said.

* * * *

Only a dying culture would seek to save itself by feeding upon its dead. Only a dying culture would exult about putting some men on the moon while half of mankind lives on the starvation level. (Julius Lester, Search for the New Land (1969; p. 148)

Martin Luther King, Jr., called upon black people to be as Christian as Christ.—Julius Lester, Search for the New Land (1969; pp151-153)

Revolutions proceed, not by the intensity of one’s desires, but by their own laws. The revolutionary’s duty is to know that what to do can never be separated from when to do. There is, however, always something to do.—Julius Lester, Search for the New Land (1969; p. 160)

(Jet—April 18, 1968)

* * * * *

The People Are the True Poets

When asked if she
was getting tired
of walking,
one old sister said:

“My soul has been
tired for a long time.
Now my feet are tired
and my soul is resting.”

The rest of us
are just journeymen
making a dishonest living.

Julius Lester, Search for the New Land (1969)

There Was No Spring in 1968

The winds of winter died
as our northern half
of the world tilted
toward the sun, but
there was no spring, April
was scarcely old enough
to know its name
when Martin Luther King
was hurled into Death

King was not cold
before blacks turned
night into day. They
knew that the bullet
had killed a little
of each of them.

For ten days blacks
"joined together”
and “worked together”
and the smoke
from the purifying
flames even drifted
over the White House
in huge black billows.

Julius Lester, Search for the New Land (1969; pp150-151)

King Preaches His Own Funeral

If any of you are around
When I have to meet my day,
I don’t want a long funeral.
And if you get somebody
to deliver the eulogy
tell him not to talk too long.
Tell him not to mention
That I have a Nobel Peace Prize—
That isn’t important.
Tell him not to mention
That I have 300 or 400 other awards—
That’s not important.
Tell him not to mention
where I went to school.

I’d like somebody to mention that day
that Martin Luther King, Jr.,
tried to give his life serving others.

I’d like somebody to mention that day
Matin Luther King, Jr.,
tried to love somebody

I want you to say that day
that I did try
to feed the hungry
I want you to be able to say that day
that I did try in my life
to visit those who were in prison.
And I want you to say
that I tried to love and serve

Yes, if you want to
Say that I was a drum major.
Say that I was a drum major for justice
Say that I was a drum major for peace
Say that I was a drum major for righteousness

Julius Lester, Search for the New Land (1969; pp150-151)

The GOP War on Voting—In a campaign supported by the Koch brothers, Republicans are working to prevent millions of Democrats from voting next year—By Ari Berman—As the nation gears up for the 2012 presidential election, Republican officials have launched an unprecedented, centrally coordinated campaign to suppress the elements of the Democratic vote that elected Barack Obama in 2008.

Just as Dixiecrats once used poll taxes and literacy tests to bar black Southerners from voting, a new crop of GOP governors and state legislators has passed a series of seemingly disconnected measures that could prevent millions of students, minorities, immigrants, ex-convicts and the elderly from casting ballots.

"What has happened this year is the most significant setback to voting rights in this country in a century," says Judith Browne-Dianis, who monitors barriers to voting as co-director of the Advancement Project, a civil rights organization based in Washington, D.C. Republicans have long tried to drive Democratic voters away from the polls. "I don't want everybody to vote," the influential conservative activist Paul Weyrich told a gathering of evangelical leaders in 1980."

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