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by Roland Sheppard
I regularly attended Malcolm X’s meetings in Harlem and was present at the meeting when Malcolm X was assassinated. I was in charge of defense whenever Malcolm X spoke at the Militant Labor Forum in New York City from 1964 to 1965. I have written several articles, spoken to various groups, and been interviewed about Malcolm X. This essay is an update of a paper that was accepted by City College of New York’s (CCNY) Black Studies Program for The Third Symposium of Institution Building in Harlem: The Malcolm X Legacy: A Global Perspective, held on Friday, May 20, 2005 at CCNY. It was first written as the February, 2001 Monthly Feature for the Holt Labor Library website. www.holtlaborlibrary.org
It is based on my presentation at a forum in Boston in 2000, on the same subject. The other speaker at the forum was Minister Don Muhammad of the Boston Nation of Islam.
Almost 32 years after King's murder at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 4, l968, a Memphis court extended the circle of responsibility for the assassination beyond the late scapegoat James Earl Ray to the United States government. According to the Memphis jury's verdict on December 8,1999, a jury of twelve citizens of Memphis, Shelby County, TN, concluded in Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King, III, Bernice King, Dexter Scott King and Yolanda King Vs. Loyd Jowers and Other Unknown Conspirators that Loyd Jowers and governmental agencies including the City of Memphis, the State of Tennessee, and the federal government were party to the conspiracy to assassinate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In the 1970’s, the public became aware of the COINTELPRO disruption operations of the government against the Civil Rights movement, the anti-war movement, radicals and socialists. Under COINTELPRO the different United States spy agencies used informers, agents, and agents provocateurs to disrupt these organizations. One of the stated purposes of this program was to neutralize Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Elijah Muhammad in order to prevent the emergence - to use the government’s term - of a Black Messiah who would have the potential of uniting and leading a mass organization of Black Americans in their struggle for freedom and economic equality. (See: http://www.finalcall.com/MEMORANDUM-46.htm)
(This policy was still being continued in 1978 and probably still going on.)
A second assassination of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. has been the attempt to distort what they really stood for in their last years of life. This is a process that Lenin described in the opening to his book The State and Revolution:
“... what in the course of history, has happened repeatedly to the theories of revolutionary thinkers and leaders of oppressed classes fighting for emancipation. During the lifetime of great revolutionaries, the oppressing classes constantly hounded them, received their theories with the most savage malice, the most furious hatred and the most unscrupulous campaigns of lies and slander. After their death, attempts are made to convert them into harmless icons, to canonize them, so to say, and to hallow their names to a certain extent for the consolation of the oppressed classes and with the object of duping the latter, while at the same time robbing the revolutionary theory of its substance, blunting its revolutionary edge and vulgarizing it.”
As one who was politically active at that time, I believe that it is important to tell the truth about Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X in order to help keep their ideas alive and prevent them from being reduced to harmless icons.
I witnessed Malcolm X’s assassination at the Audubon Ballroom, on February 21, 1965. I am writing with the benefit of first hand knowledge of what took place that day, what Malcolm X stood for at the time of his death, and the hope for the future that inspired all who heard or knew the man.
I remember the mass media, reflecting their class hatred of Malcolm X, gloating and cheering his assassination. I remember the response to his death by the tens of thousands in Harlem, who for several days went to view his casket. I remember the eulogy by Ossie Davis that silenced the hyenas of the press when he said “He [Malcolm X] was our prince, our Black shining prince.” In spite of all of the attacks by the mass media, Malcolm X has grown more and more popular as a martyred leader of his people and an uncompromising advocate of human rights and freedom.
In 1991, at the time Spike Lee’s documentary movie on Malcolm X was due to be released, several books were written that attempted to camouflage Malcolm’s political evolution during his last year. Two such books were Malcolm: The Life of a Man Who Changed Black America, by Bruce Perry and Malcolm X: The Assassination, by Michael Friedly. In my opinion, these books are a second assassination of Malcolm X.
Both books were written in order to reaffirm the government’s position to put sole blame on the Nation of Islam (NOI) for the assassination. Both deny the evolution of his thinking, reflecting his revolutionary development in the last year of his life, and discounted any possibility of government complicity or motive in the assassination. Both were also polemics against two excellent books written by George Breitman: The Last Year of Malcolm X: The Evolution of a Revolutionary and The Assassination of Malcolm X.
Breitman wrote The Last Year of Malcolm X to cover the period of Malcolm’s life that is absent from the autobiography co-authored by Alex Haley. He also hoped to clear up any misconceptions that Haley, who disagreed with Malcolm’s ideas as they were developing, had put into the epilogue of the autobiography. Breitman’s book was based on Malcolm’s speeches and statements during his last year and his collaboration with the Socialist Workers Party. If one reads Malcolm X’s speeches, one will clearly understand that Breitman’s book is a very accurate statement of Malcolm X’s political development and evolution.
Unfortunately, Spike Lee’s documentary movie, Malcolm X, also downplayed Malcolm’s thinking and accomplishments during his last year and omitted this sentence from Malcolm’s first press conference after the split from the Nation of Islam: “There can be no workers solidarity until there is first some racial solidarity”1 is a clear expression of his thinking, at that time in history.
This allows those who oppose what Malcolm had become in his last year to maintain that he had not become a threat to the capitalist establishment. This has been consciously done to make it appear that the NOI alone had a motive to kill Malcolm X and to exonerate the role of the government in the assassination.
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In his last year, Malcolm X came to the conclusion that it was impossible for African Americans to be integrated into this system because racism was profitable and an integral part of capitalism. His words on the world-wide oppression of non-whites by white Europeans were very similar to what Karl Marx wrote about how the original capitalist fortunes were obtained. In Capital, Volume One, Part VIII, Chapter 31, “Genesis of the Industrial Capitalist,” Marx wrote:
“...The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement, and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalized the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production... If money... comes into the world with a congenital blood-stain on one cheek, capital comes dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt.”
Malcolm X was the first mass leader in the United States to oppose the war in Vietnam and to identify the oppression of African Americans in this country with the struggles of the oppressed throughout the world. In all probability, Malcolm X would have spoken at the first mass demonstration against the Vietnam War in 1965. His powerful oratory alone, as well as his standing among inner-city Blacks, would have given the Vietnam Antiwar Movement a far different character and the history of that period in the United States and the world would have been greatly changed.
I had the opportunity to hear Malcolm X speak at meetings in Harlem at the Audubon Ballroom and elsewhere. His power as an orator was his ability to make complex ideas simple and clear. He was not a demagogue. His speeches were always an appeal to reason.
One example of the power of his oratory was when he spoke at an organizing rally for Hospital Workers Local 1199 in New York City 1962. The following is a famous quote from that speech: “The hospital strikers have demonstrated that you don’t get a job done unless you show the Man you’re not afraid... If you’re not willing to pay that price, then you don’t deserve the rewards or benefits that go along with it.”
He gave the best speech at the rally, and when he finished speaking, all of the workers - Black, white, and Puerto Rican - cheered wildly. The response was the same whether he spoke in Harlem or at Oxford University in England.
Malcolm X viewed the struggle of African Americans as an economic and social struggle for human rights and not limited to just a struggle for civil fights. He identified with the Colonial Revolution at that time in Africa and throughout the world, including the struggle of the Vietnamese people and the Cuban revolution; in direct opposition to the policies of the United States government both then and now. He had met with Che Guevara and the Cuban delegation to the United Nations in December 1964 and a firm bond was established between them. Contrary to Friedly and Perry’s assertions, Malcolm had become a very real threat to the very foundations of capitalism in the United States, The truth is that the United States government had a very good motive for the assassination.
Prior to his assassination Malcolm X told Clifton DeBerry, the presidential candidate of the Socialist Workers Party in 1964, and myself that he hoped to live long enough to build a viable organization based on his current ideas - so that he would be more dangerous to the system dead than alive. Unfortunately, he did not have time to build the new organization that he had envisioned.
In his book, The Assassination of Malcolm X, George Breitman points out that the first accounts of the assassination, in the New York City newspapers, reported that two people were caught by the crowd and saved by the police. But later, the press and the police reported that only one person, Talmadge Hayer, who was shot in the leg, had been caught by the crowd. Since he had been shot, the police took him to the hospital that was across the street. No explanation has ever been given for the change in the story. On the Smoking Gun website, http://www.thesmokinggun.com/malcolmx/xeyewitness.html a 1965 police affidavit, by an eyewitness, is shown that confirms that two people had been caught by the crowd.
The question remains to this day: What happened to the second man? Why wasn’t he brought to trial? The first police report stated that five men were involved in the assassination; yet only three were accused and convicted at the trial. Both Perry and Friedly allege that the newspapers made a journalistic mistake. However, Breitman puts forward the probability that the second man was an undercover agent who was quietly released.
There is no doubt that the police had plainclothes officials in the audience. As a witness to the assassination, I was questioned at the Harlem police headquarters. I recognized a man there - obviously a cop, with free run of the office - whom I had seen sitting in the first row at the Audubon Ballroom where Hayer said his accomplices were sitting. Perry’s book basically supports the official police version of the assassination. It ignores strong evidence that it would have been virtually impossible for only three people to have carried out the assassination.
Perry also ignores Hayer’s affidavit that the two other people convicted with him, Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson — who were both members of the NOI — were not even present at the meeting when Malcolm was killed. (When I was called before the Grand Jury on the assassination of Malcolm X, James Shabazz, Malcolm’s primary assistant, also told me that that Butler and Johnson were well known and confirmed that they were not at the meeting nor would they have been allowed to enter the meeting.)
Friedly’s book is a more sophisticated cover up. The book puts the blame solely on the NOI while, at the same time, criticizing the police investigation. It is based on Hayer’s confessions at the trial and at a later parole hearing. Friedly’s and Hayer’s version is that five members of the NOI carried out the assassination, three people doing the shooting up front and two people creating a diversion prior to the shooting, setting off a smoke bomb in the back of the room.
Hayer’s version of the logistics corresponds with my own impressions at the scene. Contrary to Friedly’s contention, however, the confession by Hayer only reinforces the probable existence of a second man caught by the crowd. Hayer explains that at the time that he was shot and caught by the crowd he could see one of his accomplices running ahead of him. I was told by Malcolm’s guards when I got outside the Audubon Ballroom, that two people were caught by the crowd at the same time and that one was taken to the hospital by the police and the other taken into police custody. Hayer was taken to the hospital and then booked. It is likely that the second man caught was the one running ahead of Hayer and was quite possibly an agent.
There is one glaring error in Hayer’s statement. He stated that the five assassins cased one of Malcolm’s meetings at the Audubon Ballroom in the winter of 1964-65 and concluded that they would have a good chance to escape. This is far from probable. There were normally 30 to 50 cops, in their blue uniforms, both inside and outside the building stationed at all the exits. Escape would not have been easy.
However, at the meeting when Malcolm was assassinated, the police were nowhere to be found, even though they knew that an assassination attempt was imminent. In order to plan Malcolm X’s death, the conspirators would have needed to know and be confident that the cops were not going to be there on that day. Perry and Friedly assert that the police agreed to Malcolm’s request not to have police protection. However, when the police first spoke of their agreement, Malcolm’s wife, Betty Shabazz, stated that it was a lie that Malcolm had made the request.
Both Perry and Friedly discount any possible disruption operations by the FBI, the New York City police, or the CIA. But in a 1987 documentary, Malcolm X: A Search For Identity, narrated by Dan Rather on CBS television, the FBI is shown to have acted as agent provocateurs. For example, the FBI sent provocative letters to the NOI and forged Malcolm’s signature to the letters. Rather went on to revealed that the CBS television crew had read 50,000 pages of CIA files on Malcolm X, but had not been allowed access to over 46,000 pages of documents that remain in the files of the CIA and FBI!
When Clarence Jones, Martin Luther King’s lawyer, was interviewed by Dan Rather on the 1987 documentary, when questioned about the assassination of Malcolm X he stated:
“. . . . Knowing what I now know of the various agencies of the US government investigative agencies of the US government with respect to Martin King, for example, and knowing what they did to political parties, like the Black Panther Parties, I have no doubt that the assassination of Malcolm X was calculated, planned by agencies at the highest level of this government. I don't have any question, I don't have any doubt in my mind that is what happened.. . . . “
In dramatic contrast to Perry’s and Friedly’s conclusions about Malcolm X’s assassination, is a book by Washington Post staff writer Karl Evanzz titled, The Judas Factor.
In this book, Evanzz documents how the intelligence community, the CIA, the FBI, and the New York Police Bureau of Special Services (BOSSI) using agents provocateurs and infiltrators; set the stage for the assassination of Malcolm X. It outlines the motives for their actions. Evanzz spent 15 years researching over 300,000 pages of declassified FBI and CIA documents. From Page 214 of The Judas Factor:
(A few days after Malcolm X’s press conference announcing his split from the NOI) “William C. Sullivan (FBI) contacted the directors of BOSSI and asked them to recruit several African Americans to infiltrate Malcolm X’s new organization. Among the directors at the time were two men who later would play key roles in the scandal that led to Richard Nixon’s resignation: Anthony Ulasewicz, the infamous bagman of Watergate, and Nixon advisor John J. Caulfield.
“Ulasewicz was all too happy to comply with Sullivan’s request. Malcolm X had been a thorn in the New York Police Department’s side for more than a decade. He told Sullivan that he would have officers ready to infiltrate Malcolm X’s new organizations within thirty days.
“While Sullivan was coordinating the domestic counterintelligence program against Malcolm X with BOSSI, the CIA initiated a similar program to determine the extent of Malcolm X’s influence with Third World leaders. ‘What do we have on Malcolm X?’ a CIA official wrote in an inter-office memo dated March 10. The request for information had come from the U.S. State Department. The official ordered a clerk to run a thorough check in the CIA’s database to determine which Third World countries seemed receptive to Malcolm X. . .”
In the introduction to the book, Evanzz writes: “After analyzing these resources, I am convinced that Louis E. Lomax, an industrious African-American journalist who befriended Malcolm X in the late 1950’s, had practically solved the riddle of his assassination. Lomax, who died in a mysterious automobile accident while shooting a film in Los Angeles about the assassination, believed that Malcolm X was betrayed by a former friend who reportedly had ties to the intelligence community … In 1968, Lomax called the suspect ‘Judas’. This, then, is the story of The Judas Factor.” There are two major themes in the book: One is the “Judas Factor” and the other is the concern of the FBI and the CIA over Malcolm X’s success in linking the struggle of African Americans with the national liberation struggles in Africa and throughout the Third World.
Evanzz documents that Ahmed Ben Bella, the leader of the Algerian Revolution, had invited Malcolm X ; along with Che Guevara and other leaders of independence movements; to a special conference in Bandung scheduled to begin on March 3, 1965. Malcolm X had also been able to get Ethiopia and Liberia to include human rights violations against African Americans with their petition on South African human rights violations before the International Court of Justice at The Hague. The petition was scheduled to be heard on March 12, 1965.
Part of the Judas Factor was the FBI’s attempts to neutralize Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Elijah Muhammad. Evanzz provides concrete evidence that Martin Luther King was going to support Malcolm X in his project to bring the struggle of human rights before the United Nations and had begun to also identify with the struggles for human rights in Africa.
In light of the CIA’s policies to neutralize opponents of the U.S. government’s political and covert activities in Africa, Evanzz explains that it was necessary to neutralize Malcolm X prior to the Bandung conference. Malcolm X was assassinated on February, 21, 1965, a week and a half before the conference was to take place. Soon after the assassination, several African government officials who had been working with Malcolm X were also assassinated and the Ben Bella government in Algeria was overthrown in June 1965.
From his research into FBI files, Evanzz was able to prove that the FBI had a high-level informant in the NOI. Thus, the FBI was clearly in a position to carry out a campaign to fan the flames of discontent among rising leaders of the Nation and to disrupt the organization’s activities. FBI memos indicate that they maneuvered within the NOI to keep their informant in the best possible leadership position to carry out their covert activities. From the very day that Malcolm X split from the NOI, the FBI worked on a day-to-day basis with BOSSI and the CIA to infiltrate and disrupt his activities. William Sullivan (subsequently of Watergate fame) was the FBI agent in overall charge of both the infiltration of the NOI and Malcolm’s organization, the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU).
It is clear from the book that a coordinated effort was carried out between all government spy agencies to widen the split between Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad, to increase tensions between their organizations, and to undermine their support among African Americans. It is also safe to assume that agents, informants, and provocateurs from these different agencies were sent into the NOI and Malcolm X’s organizations and that these agents were also present at the Audubon Ballroom when Malcolm X was assassinated. One of police informants, who later informed on the Black Panthers, told me as I was going to take my normal front row seat that “you are not going to sit there today,” and he had me sit in the front row on the left side of the Ballroom. (The assassins then sat in the area where I normally sat to hear Malcolm X speak.)
Some of Evanzz’s research was based on books about the NOI by Louis Lomax. Evanzz found in the FBI files a script for a movie on the assassination of Malcolm X, which Lomax was working on at the time of his death. (He died in a car accident caused by brake failure.) Evanzz provides circumstantial evidence that John Ali, a former friend of Malcolm X who became a national secretary of the NOI, was more than likely an FBI agent/informer and hence the Judas Factor. In fact, Evanzz provides quotes from Malcolm X to Lomax indicating that Malcolm X blamed John Ali for his expulsion from the Nation.
The most important aspect, however, is not whether Ali was the high-level agent, but the fact that the FBI did indeed have a high-level person in the Nation in their employ. Overall, the main value of the book is that all of the spy agencies in the United States were deeply involved as infiltrators and agent provocateurs (Judas Factors) to set the stage for Malcolm X’s assassination.
The evidence provided by the book is irrefutable proof that the government had the motive to assassinate Malcolm X and the ability, through its COINTELPRO spy operations, to orchestrate his assassination.
It is now time to open up all the files of the CIA and the FBI, as well as the thousands of pages of files of the New York City Police Department, so that the truth about the assassination of Malcolm X can be exposed.
From the time of the King assassination, the many inconsistencies in the Government’s case that James Earl Ray was the sole assassin were well publicized. When the COINTELPRO disruption operations of the government against the civil rights movement, the antiwar movement, and radicals and socialists were exposed; The United States House of Representatives’ Select Committee on Assassinations, under pressure from these exposures and the Civil Rights Movement, did an investigation in 1979 with the purpose to reconfirm the Government’s case. Immediately after it released the report; affirming that Ray was the lone assassin;this committee sealed all of the evidence it had in its possession for 50 years (until 2029). Thus, we were left with nothing but the integrity of the Senators to justify their ‘findings’; rather than the facts. The only logical reason to keep the files secret is to protect the guilty.
Recently, new facts on this assassination have come to light. On Dec. 8, 1999, a jury awarded Coretta Scott King and her family $100 in damages resulting from a conspiracy to murder her late husband, Martin Luther King, Jr. The trial was initiated by the admission of Lloyd Jowers on national TV in 1993 that he had hired King’s assassin as a favor to an underworld figure who was a friend. At the conclusion of the trial, Dexter King, Dr. King’s son, said, After today, we don’t want questions like, ‘Do you believe James Earl Ray killed your father?’ I’ve been hearing that all my life. No, I don’t, and this is the end of it. This was the most incredible cover-up of the century, and now it has been exposed. Now we can finally move on with our lives.
The King family, along with their attorney, William Pepper, plan to lobby historians and elected officials to get the official record of the assassination changed. There have always been many unanswered questions about the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. From the beginning it has been clear that the FBI was involved to one degree or another.
The FBI leaked the information to the Memphis press that King was going to be staying at a white hotel a couple of days prior to his arrival in the city. This forced King to stay at the less secure Lorraine Motel. The question remains: Why would the government be part of the conspiracy against King? Why would they want him dead? A key to understanding the government’s motive is that Martin Luther King had a different political perspective at the time of his death than when he made his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech. His final speeches and actions reveal that he had begun to view the struggle for equality as an economic struggle and the capitalist economic system as the problem.
In one of his last speeches, given at Stanford University in April 1967 and titled the The Other America, http://auroraforum.org/events.php?id=45, King addressed the problem of the rich and the poor in this country. Instead of his dream, he talked about the nightmare of the economic condition of Blacks. He talked about “work-starved men searching for jobs that did not exist”; about the Black population living on a “lonely island of poverty surrounded by an ocean of material prosperity”; and about living in a “triple ghetto of race, poverty, and human misery.” He explained that after World War II, the unemployment rate between Blacks and whites was equal and that in the years between then and 1967, Black unemployment had become double the rate for white workers. He also spoke about how Black workers made half the wages of white workers
From his experience when he started his campaign for equality in Chicago and elsewhere in the North, King concluded in this speech that to deal with this problem of the Two Americas was much more difficult than to get rid of legal segregation. He pointed out that the northern liberals, who had given moral and financial support to the struggle against Jim Crow, would not give such support to the efforts to end economic segregation. He also polemicized against the concept that people should pick themselves up by their own bootstraps. In the course of explaining the obstacles that Blacks faced coming into this country that Europeans did not have, he stated: “It is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man to pick himself up by his own bootstraps.” Black people, he said, were “impoverished aliens in their own land.”
In this speech King also opposed the war in Vietnam. He criticized the government for spending hundreds of millions of dollars for war and not for equality. He stated his goal to organize and mobilize forces to fight for economic equality. In his last letter, requesting support for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1968, he wrote:
“It was obdurate government callousness to misery that first stoked the flames of rage and frustration. With unemployment a scourge in Negro ghettos, the government still tinkers with half-hearted measures, refuses still to become an employer of last resort. It asks the business community to solve the problems as though its past failures qualified it for success.”
He also stated this outlook at the SCLC Convention of Aug. 1967:
“We’ve got to begin to ask questions about the whole society. We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life’s marketplace. But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. It means that questions must be raised. ‘Who owns this oil? ... Who owns the iron ore?... Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that is two-thirds water?”
In another major speech in 1967, King also stated the course that he was planning to take in the fight for economic equality:
“There is nothing but a lack of social vision to prevent us from paying an adequate wage to every American citizen whether he be a hospital worker, laundry worker, maid, or day laborer.
“There is nothing except shortsightedness to prevent us from guaranteeing an annual minimum-and livable-income for every American family.\
“There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities. . . .
“The coalition of an energized section of labor, Negroes, unemployed, and welfare recipients may be the source of power that reshapes economic relationships and ushers in a breakthrough to a new level of social reform.
“The total elimination of poverty, now a practical responsibility, the reality of equality in race relations and other profound structural changes in society may well begin here.”
These words have even more meaning in today’s world. At that time, the stock market was below 1,000 points. Today, it is above 10,000 points, and yet conditions for Blacks are still lower than after World War II.
At the time of their assassinations, both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X were embarking on a course in opposition to the capitalist system. It is clear from reading and listening to their final speeches that they had both evolved to similar conclusions as to capitalism’s role in the maintenance of racism. That is why they were neutralized.
Unlike Malcolm X, who never got the opportunity to act upon his convictions, Martin Luther King, Jr.was organizing a movement to obtain his stated goals when he was assassinated in Memphis. He was in Memphis to build “the coalition of an energized section of labor, Negroes, unemployed, and welfare recipients” in support of striking municipal garbage workers. If such a force had been launched, the whole power of the anti-war and civil rights movement in the 1960s could have transformed the labor movement and become “the source of power that reshapes economic relationships and ushers in a breakthrough to a new level of social reform.” Such a coalition, as King envisioned it thirty-three years ago, is needed today. The best tribute to Martin Luther King and Malcolm X would be to begin anew to build a movement based on the ideas and the concepts that they had developed at the time of their untimely deaths.
Photos of striking Memphis sanitation workers during their daily marches March 29, 1968 — One day after ‘rioting’ left the Memphis streets littered with bricks and broken glass and
dappled with blood. The city brought in National Guardsmen, in armored personnel carriers equipped with 50-caliber machine guns, in a futile attempt to break the strike.
Unfortunately, the civil rights movement, after Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, subordinated independent mass struggle in the streets to electoral activity: to elect Democrats. Black Democratic politicians under the slogan: “vote for me and I’ll set you free,” began distributing “war on poverty” money to Black organizations. What W.E.B. DuBois called the “talented tenth” got government jobs and became comfortable. This whole process demobilized the civil rights movement of the Black masses, who were subsequently left behind.
Today, the bankruptcy of this policy has come home to roost upon all workers as pensions, wages, our standard of living, etc. are under attack and devalued by inflation. Blacks and other minorities especially have faced the brunt of these attacks. They are disproportionately among the ranks of the unemployed and the underemployed.
On the question of civil rights, conditions have reverted to the 60s for the Black masses and for Latinos. According to the Harvard Civil Rights Project www.civilrightsproject.harvard.edu/ the nation’s schools have become re-segregated along Black, Latino, and economic lines. Throughout this country, the inner cities are being gentrified as Blacks and the poor are forced out and scattered throughout the land. The action in response to Hurricane Katrina and the explosion of the immigrant rights movement; a reflection of the rise of the indigenous people of all of Latin America for their rights, bring hope for a better future and are just a hint of what’s to come.
As we make a balance sheet of the Civil Right’s Movement against the backdrop of the world and domestic situation at the opening of the 21st century, it is clear that Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Dream” is not possible under the “Nightmare” of capitalism. The modern-day tyranny of the multinationals and their beholden representatives in government is based on dividing working people worldwide on the basis of race, nationality, and gender. There is no way forward for Black and Latino workers, or even for their white counterparts, under capitalism. If the system of capitalism is based on the exploitation of Labor, and one of the foremost methods of capitalist exploitation of Labor is the weapon of racism, how can any lasting solution to this problem of humanity be achieved under capitalism? As Malcolm X said: “.... Racism is profitable, if it wasn’t profitable it wouldn’t exist.”
At Frogmore, S.C. November 14, 1966 King echoed Malcolm X when he said:”You can’t talk about solving the economic problem of the Negro without talking about billions of dollars. You can’t talk about ending the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of slums .... we are treading in difficult water, because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong .... with capitalism .... There must be a better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.”
The only permanent solution to the exploitation and oppression of African-Americans is Socialism, based on the multi-racial working class becoming the masters of their own society, culture, and economy. Only on this basis can the age-old double exploitation of Blacks be eliminated and replaced by a society fit for all human beings to live in. Only on this basis can the African-American working class take its rightful place as masters of the country that was built by the blood and sweat of its slavery: both the chattel slavery of the plantation and the wage slavery of the city.
The lesson of this history is that if we keep our politics independent of the Republican and Democratic Parties and the government; if we rely upon our own power in the streets; if we take up the struggle where Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. left off, we will win. September, 2006
1. The Militant, March, 1964
The Militant, March, 1964
March 12, 1964 Press Statement By Malcolm X
The following is the text of the statement made by Malcolm X in opening his press conference at New York’s Park Sheraton Hotel, March 12.
Because 1964 threatens to be a vary explosive year on the racial front, and because I myself intend to be very active in every phase on the American Negro struggle for Human Rights, I have called this press conference this morning to clarify ny own position in the struggle — especially in regard to politics and nonviolence.
The problem facing our people here in America is bigger than all other personal or organizational differences. Therefore, as leaders, we must stop worrying about the threat that we think we pose to each other’s personal prestige, and concentrate our united efforts toward solving the unending hurt that is being done daily to our people here in America.
I am going to organize and head a new Mosque in New York City, known as the Muslim Mosque, Inc. This gives us a religious base, and the spiritual force necessary to rid our people of the vices that destroy the moral fiber of our community. . .
Our political philosophy. will be Black Nationalism. Our economic and social philosophy will be Black Nationalism. Our cultural emphasis will be Black Nationalism.
Many of our people aren’t religiously inclined” so the Muslim Mosque, Inc., will be organized in such manner to provide for the active participation of all Negroes in our political, economic, and social programs, despite their religious or non-religious beliefs.
The political ‘philosophy of Black Nationalism means: we must control the politics and the politicians of our community. They must no longer take orders from outside forces. We will organize and sweep out of office all Negro politicians who are puppets for the outside forces.
Our accent will be upon youth: we need new ideas, new methods, new approaches. We will call upon young students of political science’ throughout the nation to help us. We will encourage these young students to launch their own independent study, and then give us their analysis and their suggestions. We are completely disenchanted with the old, adult, established politicians. We want to see some new faces — more militant faces.
Concerning the 1964 elections: we will keep our plans on this a secret until a later date - but we don’t intend for our people to be the victims of a political sellout’ again in 1964. The Muslim Mosque, Inc.:, will remain wide-open for ideas and financial aid from all quarters.
· Whites can help us, but they can’t Join us.
· There can be no black-white unity until there is first some’ black unity.
· There can be no workers solidarity until there is first some racial solidarity.
· We cannot think of uniting with others, until after we have first united among ourselves.
· We cannot think of being acceptable to others until we have first proven acceptable to ourselves.
· One can’t unite bananas with scattered leaves.
Concerning nonviolence: it Is criminal to teach a man not to defend himself when he is the constant victim of brutal attacks. It is legal and lawful to own a shotgun or a rifle. We believe in obeying the law.
In areas where our people are the constant victims of brutality, and the government seems unable or unwilling to protect them, we should form rifle clubs that can ‘be used to ‘defend our lives and our property in times of emergency, such as happened last year in BirmIngham, Plaque mine Ia., Cambridge, Md., and Danville, Va. When our people are being bitten by dogs, they are within their rights to kill those dogs.
We should be peaceful, law abiding — but the time has Come for the American Negro to fight back in self-defense whenever and wherever he is being unjustly and unlawfully attacked. . It the government thinks I am wrong for saying this, then let the government start doing its job.
THE OTHER AMERICA
A Speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Stanford University April 14. 1967
THE OTHER AMERICA is available in VHS and DVD formats at $19.95 each,
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Members of the faculty and members of the student body of this great institution of learning; ladies and gentlemen.
Now there are several things that one could talk about before such a large, concerned, and enlightened audience. There are so many problems facing our nation and our world, that one could just take off anywhere. But today I would like to talk mainly about the race problems since I’ll have to rush right out and go to New York to talk about Vietnam tomorrow. and I’ve been talking about it a great deal this week and weeks before that.
But I’d like to use a subject from which to speak this afternoon, the Other America. And I use this subject because there are literally two Americas. One America is beautiful for situation. And, in a sense, this America is overflowing with the milk of prosperity and the honey of opportunity. This America is the habitat of millions of people who have food and material necessities for their bodies; and culture and education for their minds; and freedom and human dignity for their spirits. In this America, millions of people experience every day the opportunity of having life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in all of their dimensions. And in this America millions of young people grow up in the sunlight of opportunity.
But tragically and unfortunately, there is another America. This other America has a daily ugliness about it that constantly transforms the ebulliency of hope into the fatigue of despair. In this America millions of work-starved men walk the streets daily in search for jobs that do not exist. In this America millions of people find themselves living in rat-infested, vermin-filled slums. In this America people are poor by the millions. They find themselves perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.
In a sense, the greatest tragedy of this other America is what it does to little children. Little children in this other America are forced to grow up with clouds of inferiority forming every day in their little mental skies. As we look at this other America, we see it as an arena of blasted hopes and shattered dreams. Many people of various backgrounds live in this other America. Some are Mexican Americans, some are Puerto Ricans, some are Indians, some happen to be from other groups. Millions of them are Appalachian whites. But probably the largest group in this other America in proportion to its size in the Population is the American Negro.
The American Negro finds himself living in a triple ghetto. A ghetto of race, a ghetto of poverty, a ghetto of human misery. So what we are seeking to do in the Civil Rights Movement is to deal with this problem. To deal with this problem of the two Americas. We are seeking to make America one nation, Indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Now let me say that the struggle for Civil Rights and the struggle to make these two Americas one America, is much more difficult today than it was five or ten years ago. For about a decade or maybe twelve years, we’ve struggled all across the South in glorious struggles to get rid of legal, overt segregation and all of the humiliation that surrounded that system of segregation.
In a sense this was a struggle for decency; we could not go to a lunch counter in so many instances and get a hamburger or a cup of coffee. We could not make use of public accommodations. Public transportation was segregated, and often we had to sit in the back and within transportation - transportation within cities - we often had to stand over empty seats because sections were reserved for whites only. We did not have the right to vote in so many areas of the South. And the struggle was to deal with these problems.
And certainly they were difficult problems, they were humiliating conditions. By the thousands we protested these conditions. We made it clear that it was ultimately more honorable to accept jail cell experiences than to accept segregation and humiliation. By the thousands students and adults decided to sit in at segregated lunch counters to protest conditions there. When they were sitting at those lunch counters they were in reality standing up for the best in the American dream and seeking to take the whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the Founding Fathers in the formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
Many things were gained as a result of these years of struggle. In 1964 the Civil Rights Bill came into being after the Birmingham movement which did a great deal to subpoena the conscience of a large segment of the nation to appear before the judgment seat of morality on the whole question of Civil Rights. After the Selma movement in 1965 we were able to get a Voting Rights Bill. And all of these things represented strides.
But we must see that the struggle today is much more difficult. It’s more difficult today because we are struggling now for genuine equality. It’s much easier to integrate a lunch counter than it is to guarantee a livable income and a good solid job. It’s much easier to guarantee the right to vote than it is to guarantee the right to live in sanitary, decent housing - conditions. It is much easier to integrate a public park than it is to make genuine, quality, integrated education a reality. And so today we are struggling for something which says we demand genuine equality.
It’s not merely a struggle against extremist behavior toward Negroes. And I’m convinced that many of the very people who supported us in the struggle in the South are not willing to go all the way now. I came to see this in a very difficult and painful way In Chicago the last year where I’ve lived and worked. Some of the people who came quickly to march with us in Selma and Birmingham weren’t active around Chicago. And I came to see that so many people who supported morally and even financially what we were doing in Birmingham and Selma, were really outraged against the extremist behavior of Bull Connor and Jim Clark toward Negroes, rather than believing in genuine equality for Negroes. And I think this is what we’ve gotta see now, and this is what makes the struggle much more difficult.
So as a result of all of this, we see many problems existing today that are growing more difficult. It’s something that is often overlooked, but Negroes generally live in worse slums today than 20 or 25 years ago. In the North schools are more segregated today than they were in 1954 when the Supreme Court’s decision on desegregation was rendered. Economically the Negro Is worse off today than he was 15 and 20 years ago. And so the unemployment rate among Whites at one time was about the same as the unemployment rate among Negroes. But today the unemployment rate among Negroes is twice that of Whites. And the average income of the Negro is today 50% less than Whites.
As we look at these problems we see them growing and developing every day. We see the fact that the Negro economically is facing a depression in his everyday life that is more staggering than the depression of the 30’s. The unemployment rate of the nation as a whole is about 4%. Statistics would say from the Labor Department that among Negroes it’s about 8.4%. But these are the persons who are in the labor market, who still go to employment agencies to seek jobs, and so they can be calculated. The statistics can be gotten because they are still somehow in the labor market.
But there are hundreds of thousands of Negroes who have given up. They’ve lost hope. They’ve come to feel that life is a long and desolate corridor for them with no Exit sign, and so they no longer go to look for a job. There are those who would estimate that these persons, who are called the Discouraged Persons, these 6 or 7% in the Negro community, that means that unemployment among Negroes may well be 16%. Among Negro youth in some of our larger urban areas it goes to 30 and 40%. So you can see what I mean when I say that, in the Negro community, there is a major, tragic and staggering depression that we face in our everyday lives.
Now the other thing that we’ve gotta come to see now that many of us didn’t see too well during the last ten years - that is that racism is still alive in American society. And much more wide-spread than we realized. And we must see racism for what it is. It is a myth of the superior and the inferior race. It is the false and tragic notion that one particular group, one particular race is responsible for all of the progress, all of the insights in the total flow of history. And the theory that another group or another race is totally depraved, innately impure, and innately inferior.
In the final analysis, racism is evil because its ultimate logic is genocide. Hitler was a sick and tragic man who carried racism to its logical conclusion. He ended up leading a nation to the point of killing about 6 million Jews. This is the tragedy of racism because its ultimate logic is genocide. If one says that I am not good enough to live next door to him; if one says that I am not good enough to eat at a lunch counter, or to have a good, decent job, or to go to school with him merely because of my race, he is saying consciously or unconsciously that I do not deserve to exist.
To use a philosophical analogy here, racism is not based on some empirical generalization; it is based rather on an ontological affirmation. It is not the assertion that certain people are behind culturally or otherwise because of environmental conditions. It is the affirmation that the very being of a people is inferior. And this is the great tragedy of it.
I submit that however unpleasant it is we must honestly see and admit that racism is still deeply rooted all over America. It is still deeply rooted in the North, and it’s still deeply rooted in the South.
And this leads me to say something about another discussion that we hear a great deal, and that is the so-called ‘white backlash”. I would like to honestly say to you that the white backlash is merely a new name for an old phenomenon. It’s not something that just came into being because of shouts of Black Power, or because Negroes engaged in riots in Watts, for instance. The fact is that the state of California voted a Fair Housing bill out of existence before anybody shouted Black Power, or before anybody rioted in Watts.
It may well be that shouts of Black Power and riots in Watts and the Harlems and the other areas, are the consequences of the white backlash rather than the cause of them. What it is necessary to see is that there has never been a single solid monistic determined commitment on the part of the vast majority of white Americans on the whole question of Civil Rights and on the whole question of racial equality. This is something that truth impels all men of good will to admit.
It is said on the Statue of Liberty that America is a home of exiles. It doesn’t take us long to realize that America has been the home of its white exiles from Europe. But it has not evinced the same kind of maternal care and concern for its black exiles from Africa. It is no wonder that in one of his sorrow songs, the Negro could sing out. Sometimes I feel like a motherless child. What great estrangement, what great sense of rejection caused a people to emerge with such a metaphor as they looked over their lives.
What I’m trying to get across is that our nation has constantly taken a positive step forward on the question of racial justice and racial equality. But over and over again at the same time, it made certain backward steps. And this has been the persistence of the so called white backlash.
In 1863 the Negro was freed from the bondage of physical slavery. But at the same time, the nation refused to give him land to make that freedom meaningful. And at that same period America was giving millions of acres of land in the West and the Midwest, which meant that America was willing to undergird its white peasants from Europe with an economic floor that would make it possible to grow and develop, and refused to give that economic floor to its black peasants, so to speak.
This is why Frederick Douglas could say that emancipation for the Negro was freedom to hunger, freedom to the winds and rains of heaven, freedom without roofs to cover their heads. He went on to say that it was freedom without bread to eat, freedom without land to cultivate. It was freedom and famine at the same time. But it does not stop there.
In 1875 the nation passed a Civil Rights Bill and refused to enforce it. In 1964 the nation passed a weaker Civil Rights Bill and even to this day, that bill has not been totally enforced in all of its dimensions. The nation heralded a new day of concern for the poor, for the poverty stricken, for the disadvantaged. And brought into being a Poverty Bill and at the same time it put such little money into the program that it was hardly, and still remains hardly, a good skirmish against poverty. White politicians in suburbs talk eloquently against open housing, and in the same breath contend that they are not racist. And all of this, and all of these things tell us that America has been backlashing on the whole question of basic constitutional and God-given rights for Negroes and other disadvantaged groups for more than 300 years.
So these conditions, existence of widespread poverty, slums, and of tragic conniptions in schools and other areas of life, all of these things have brought about a great deal of despair, and a great deal of desperation. A great deal of disappointment and even bitterness in the Negro communities. And today all of our cities confront huge problems. All of our cities are potentially powder kegs as a result of the continued existence of these conditions. Many in moments of anger, many in moments of deep bitterness engage in riots.
Let me say as I’ve always said, and I will always continue to say, that riots are socially destructive and self-defeating. I’m still convinced that nonviolence is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom and justice. I feel that violence will only create more social problems than they will solve. That in a real sense it is impracticable for the Negro to even think of mounting a violent revolution in the United States. So I will continue to condemn riots, and continue to say to my brothers and sisters that this is not the way. And continue to affirm that there is another way.
But at the same time, it is as necessary for me to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots. I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.
Now let me go on to say that if we are to deal with all of the problems that I’ve talked about, and if we are to bring America to the point that we have one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all, there are certain things that we must do. The job ahead must be massive and positive. We must develop massive action programs all over the United States of America in order to deal with the problems that I have mentioned. Now in order to develop these massive action programs we’ve got to get rid of one or two false notions that continue to exist in our society. One is the notion that only time can solve the problem of racial injustice. I’m sure you’ve heard this idea. It is the notion almost that there is something in the very flow of time that will miraculously cure all evils. And I’ve heard this over and over again. There are those, and they are often sincere people, who say to Negroes and their allies In the white community, that we should slow up and just be nice and patient and continue to pray, and in a hundred or two hundred years the problem will work itself out because only time can solve the problem.
I think there is an answer to that myth. And it is that time is neutral. It can be used either constructively or destructively. And I’m absolutely convinced that the forces of ill-will in our nation, the extreme rightists in our nation, have often used time much more effectively than the forces of good will. And it may well be that we will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words of the bad people and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say wait on time. Somewhere we must come to see that social progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated Individuals. 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 right to do right.
Now there’s another notion that gets out, it’s around everywhere. It’s in the South, it’s in the North, it’s In California, and all over our nation. It’s the notion that legislation can’t solve the problem, it can’t do anything in this area. And those who project this argument contend that you’ve got to change the heart and that you can’t change the heart through legislation. Now I would be the first one to say that there is real need for a lot of heart changing in our country, and I believe in changing the heart. I preach about it. I believe in the need for conversion in many Instances, and regeneration, to use theological terms. And I would be the first to say that If the race problem In America is to be solved, the white person must treat the Negro right, not merely because the law says it, but because it’s natural, because It’s right, and because the Negro is his brother. And so I realize that if we are to have a truly integrated society, men and women will have to rise to the majestic heights of being obedient to the unenforceable.
But after saying this, let me say another thing which gives the other side, and that is that although it may be true that morality cannot be legislated, behavior can be regulated. Even though it may be true that the law cannot change the heart, it can restrain the heartless. Even though it may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, it can restrain him from lynching me. And I think that’s pretty important also. And so while the law may not change the hearts of men, it can and it does change the habits of men. And when you begin to change the habits of men, pretty soon the attitudes will be changed; pretty soon the hearts will be changed. And I’m convinced that we still need strong civil rights legislation. And there is a bill before Congress right now to have a national or federal Open Housing Bill. A federal law declaring discrimination in housing unconstitutional.
And also a bill to make the administration of justice real all over our country. Now nobody can doubt the need for this. Nobody can doubt the need if he thinks about the fact that since 1963 some 50 Negroes and white Civil Rights workers have been brutally murdered in the state of Mississippi alone, and not a single person has been convicted for these dastardly crimes. There have been some indictments but no one has been convicted. And so there is a need for a federal law dealing with the whole question of the administration of justice.
There is a need for fair housing laws all over our country. And it is tragic indeed that Congress last year allowed this bill to die. And when that bill died in Congress, a bit of democracy died, a bit of our commitment to justice died. If it happens again in this session of Congress, a greater degree of our commitment to democratic principles will die. And I can see no more dangerous trend in our country than the constant developing of predominantly Negro central cities ringed by white suburbs. This is only inviting social disaster. And the only way this problem will be solved is by the nation taking a strong stand, and by state governments taking a strong stand against housing segregation and against discrimination in all of these areas.
Now there’s another thing that I’d like to mention as I talk about the massive action program and time will not permit me to go into specific programmatic action to any great degree. But it must be realized now that the Negro cannot solve the problems by himself. There again, there are those who always say to Negroes, ‘Why don’t you do something for yourself? Why don’t you lift yourselves by your own bootstraps’? And we hear this over and over again.
Now certainly there are many things that we must do for ourselves and that only we can do for ourselves. Certainly we must develop within a sense of dignity and self-respect that nobody else can give us. A sense of manhood, a sense of personhood, a sense of not being ashamed of our heritage, not being ashamed of our color. It was wrong and tragic of the Negro ever to allow himself to be ashamed of the fact that he was black, or ashamed of the fact that his ancestral home was Africa. And so there is a great deal that the Negro can do to develop self respect. There is a great deal that the Negro must do and can do to amass political and economic power within his own community and by using his own resources. And so we must do certain things for ourselves but this must not negate the fact, and cause the nation to overlook the fact, that the Negro cannot solve the problem himself.
A man was on the plane with me some weeks ago and he came up to me and said, “The problem, Dr. King, that I see with what you all are doing is that every time I see you and other Negroes, you’re protesting and you aren’t doing anything for yourselves.” And he went on to tell me that he was very poor at one time, and he was able to make by doing something for himself. “Why don’t you teach your people” he said, “to lift themselves by their own bootstraps?”. And then he went on to say other groups faced disadvantages, the Irish, the Italian, and he went down the line.
And I said to him that it does not help the Negro, it only deepens his frustration, upon feeling insensitive people to say to him that other ethnic groups who migrated or were immigrants to this country less than a hundred years or so ago, have gotten beyond him and he came here some 344 years ago. And I went on to remind him that the Negro came to this country involuntarily in chains, while others came voluntarily. I went on to remind him that no other racial group has been a slave on American soil. I went on to remind him that the other problem we have faced over the years is that this society placed a stigma on the color of the Negro, on the color of his skin because he was black. Doors were closed to him that were not closed to other groups.
And I finally said to him that it’s a nice thing to say to people that you oughta lift yourself by your own bootstraps, but it is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he oughta lift himself by his own bootstraps. And the fact is that millions of Negroes, as a result of centuries of denial and neglect, have been left bootless. They find themselves impoverished aliens in this affluent society. And there is a great deal that the society can and must do if the Negro is to gain the economic security that he needs.
Now one of the answers it seems to me, Is a guaranteed annual income, a guaranteed minimum income for all people, and for our families of our country. It seems to me that the Civil Rights movement must now begin to organize for the guaranteed annual income. Begin to organize people all over our country, and mobilize forces so that we can bring to the attention of our nation this need, and this is something which I believe will go a long long way toward dealing with the Negro’s economic problem and the economic problem which many other poor people confront in our nation. Now I said I wasn’t going to talk about Vietnam, but I can’t make a speech without mentioning some of the problems that we face there because I think this war has diverted attention from civil rights. It has strengthened the forces of reaction in our country and has brought to the forefront the military-industrial complex that even President Eisenhower warned us against at one time. And above all, it is destroying human lives. It’s destroying the lives of thousands of the young promising men of our nation. It’s destroying the lives of little boys and little girls In Vietnam.
But one of the greatest things that this war is doing to us in Civil Rights is that it is allowing the Great Society to be shot down on the battlefields of Vietnam every day. And I submit this afternoon that we can end poverty in the United States. Our nation has the resources to do it. The National Gross Product of America will rise to the astounding figure of some $780 billion this year. We have the resources: The question is, whether our nation has the will, and I submit that if we can spend $35 billion a year to fight an ill-considered war in Vietnam, and $20 billion to put a man on the moon, our nation can spend billions of dollars to put God’s children on their own two feet right here on earth.
Let me say another thing that’s more in the realm of the spirit I guess, that is that if we are to go on in the days ahead and make true brotherhood a reality, it is necessary for us to realize more than ever before, that the destinies of the Negro and the white man are tied together. Now there are still a lot of people who don’t realize this. The racists still don’t realize this. But it is a fact now that Negroes and whites are tied together, and we need each other. The Negro needs the white man to save him from his fear. The white man needs the Negro to save him from his guilt. We are tied together in so many ways, our language, our music, our cultural patterns, our material prosperity, and even our food are an amalgam of black and white.
So there can be no separate black path to power and fulfillment that does not Intersect white groups. There can be no separate white path to power and fulfillment short of social disaster. It does not recognize the need of sharing that power with black aspirations for freedom and justice. We must come to see now that Integration Is not merely a romantic or esthetic something where you merely add color to a still predominantly white power structure. Integration must be seen also in political terms where there is shared power, where black men and white men share power together to build a new and a great nation.
In a real sense, we are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. John Donne placed it years ago in graphic terms, “No man is an island entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main: And he goes on toward the end to say, “Any man’s death diminishes me because I’m Involved in mankind. Therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee: And so we are all in the same situation: the salvation of the Negro will mean the salvation of the white man. And the destruction of life and of the ongoing progress of the Negro will be the destruction of the ongoing progress of the nation.
Now let me say finally that we have difficulties ahead but I haven’t despaired. Somehow I maintain hope in spite of hope. And I’ve talked about the difficulties and how hard the problems will be as we tackle them. But I want to close by saying this afternoon, that I still have faith in the future. And I still believe that these problems can be solved. And so I will not join anyone who will say that we still can’t develop a coalition of conscience.
I realize and understand the discontent and the agony and the disappointment and even the bitterness of those who feel that whites in America cannot be trusted. And I would be the first to say that there are all too many who are still guided by the racist ethos. And I am still convinced that there are still many white persons of good will. And I’m happy to say that I see them every day in the student generation who cherish democratic principles and justice above principle, and who will stick with the cause of justice and the cause of Civil Rights and the cause of peace throughout the days ahead. And so I refuse to despair. I think we’re gonna achieve our freedom because however much America strays away from the ideals of justice, the goal of America is freedom.
Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up in the destiny of America. Before the pilgrim fathers landed at Plymouth we were here. Before Jefferson etched across the pages of history the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence, we were here. Before the beautiful words of the Star Spangled Banner were written, we were here. For more than two centuries, our forebearers labored here without wages. They made cotton king. They built the homes of their masters in the midst of the most humiliating and oppressive conditions. And yet out of a bottomless vitality, they continued to grow and develop.
And I say that if the inexpressible cruelties of slavery couldn’t stop us, the opposition that we now face, including the so-called white backlash, will surely fail. We’re gonna win our freedom because both the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of the Almighty God are embodied in our echoing demands.
And so I can still sing “We Shall Overcome”. We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward Justice. We shall overcome because Carlyle is right, “no lie can live forever.” We shall overcome because William Cullen Bryant is right, “truth crushed to earth will rise again.” We shall overcome because James Russell Lowell is right, “Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne - Yet that scaffold sways the future”. With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.
With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discourse of our nation into a beautiful symphony of 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, will be able to join hands and live together as brothers and sisters, all over this great nation. That will be a great day, that will be a great tomorrow. In the words of the Scripture, to speak symbolically, that will be the day when the morning stars will sing together and the sons of God will shout for joy.
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