By Rev. Dr. Raphael G. Warnock | No one in American history has addressed more eloquently or advanced more effectively the ideals of freedom, justice, and equality than the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. With his voice, he discredited the fallacious doctrine of white supremacy; and through his activism, he changed America, liberating the sons and daughters of “former slaves” and “former slave owners” for the possibility of what he called “the beloved community.” Dr. King bequeathed to all of us a gift of love.
Give yourself a round of applause for running the marathon and sadistic obstacle course that was 2020! Or a glass of wine. Recollect yourself and recuperate with your self-care regimen if you have one. This year ran us so ragged we may not be in any mood to look back in annoyance, exhaustion, or terror. But this is one of those car wrecks worthy of a size-up so we can take stock of the issues that blew up in 2020. That way, we can recommit to learning about them in the New Year to set the nation back on course to the society we want. The top read blog posts on the Broadside are a good, and hopefully less painful, way to do that.
First, the American Dirt snafu. Now this? Barely into the beginning of Black History Month, we had a teachable moment. Yes, that kind of teachable moment. To celebrate the month, Barnes & Noble Fifth Avenue announced the launch of their Diverse Editions. Alice in Wonderland, Romeo and Juliet, The Secret Garden, and nine other classic novels—“classic” meaning, of course, older works of fiction from the white literary tradition, as though other cultures don’t have longstanding literary traditions of their own, tut-tut—would have custom designed covers, each one illustrating the main characters with multiethnic backgrounds.
As Coretta Scott King wrote in the introduction to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Strength to Love,” “Love, truth, and the courage to do what is right should be our own guideposts on this lifelong journey. Martin Luther King, Jr., showed us the way; he showed us the Dream.” He sure did! The entirety of Dr. King’s speeches and activism embodies love, truth, and the courage to do what is right. It’s a radical vision of ridding the world of what he identified as the triple evils of poverty, racism, and war—which we still have to work very hard to make a reality.
You’ll notice a major recurring theme in the top read blog posts from the Broadside in 2018. Should it be any surprise? This year, readers were more than ready to come to terms with our country’s complex notions around racial identity and, most of all, white fragility. And we have Robin DiAngelo’s book White Fragility to thank! Dina Gilio-Whitaker extended the conversation of white fragility to address how settler colonialism manifests as settler privilege and settler fragility today. Her series on settler privilege went viral. Whatever the topic, we at Beacon Press can always turn to our authors for the critical lens we need to understand today’s most pressing social issues. Take a look at our other highlights of the Broadside.
Millions tuned in on Saturday, May 19, to watch the royal wedding ceremony of Britain’s Prince Harry and African American actress Meghan Markle. Bishop Michael Curry of the American Episcopal Church delivered a stirring and dynamic sermon for the occasion. At the get-go, he quoted none other than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
By Jonathan Rosenblum: The revolutionary Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has been slain twice: First, by an assassin’s bullet fifty years ago, and a second time, by the political, economic, and cultural elites of our time. They have reduced his radical teachings to gauzy notions of justice and equality, seeking to soothe their guilty consciences and hope the rest of us don’t look too closely.
A Q&A with Mary Frances Berry and Jeanne Theoharis: I wrote this book, History Teaches Us to Resist: How Progressive Movements Have Succeeded in Challenging Times, because my editor, reinforced by friends and colleagues after Trump’s election, argued that the public needed reminding of how and why resistance has succeeded and or failed in the past. And I felt I could provide that based on my experience in several movements and through my historical research. Though history does not repeat itself exactly, perhaps we can learn something from history or at least be encouraged.
Today, on the fiftieth anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, we honor his legacy. We reached out to some of our authors and staff members to reflect on the impact of his global vision for social justice and his tireless work in the civil rights movement. We share their commemorative responses with you below.
By Martin Luther King, Jr.: As you know, if I were standing at the beginning of time, with the possibility of taking a kind of general and panoramic view of the whole human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me, “Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?” I would take my mental ﬂight by Egypt through, or rather across the Red Sea, through the wilderness on toward the promised land. And in spite of its magniﬁcence, I wouldn’t stop there. I would move on by Greece, and take my mind to Mount Olympus. And I would see Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Euripides and Aristophanes assembled around the Parthenon as they discussed the great and eternal issues of reality.
By Martin Luther King, Jr.: As I came in tonight, I turned around and said to Ralph Abernathy, “They really have a great movement here in Memphis.” You are demonstrating something here that needs to be demonstrated all over our country. You are demonstrating that we can stick together and you are demonstrating that we are all tied in a single garment of destiny, and that if one black person suffers, if one black person is down, we are all down. I’ve always said that if we are to solve the tremendous problems that we face we are going to have to unite beyond the religious line, and I’m so happy to know that you have done that in this movement in a supportive role. We have Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, members of the Church of God in Christ, and members of the Church of Christ in God, we are all together, and all of the other denominations and religious bodies that I have not mentioned.
By Martin Luther King, Jr.: There are times, and I must confess it very honestly as many of us have to confess it as we look at contemporary developments, that I’m often disenchanted with some segments of the power structure of the labor movement. But in these moments of disenchantment, I begin to think of unions like Local 1199 and it gives me renewed courage and vigor to carry on . . . and the feeling that there are some unions left that will always maintain the radiant and vibrant idealism that brought the labor movement into being. And I would suggest that if all of labor would emulate what you have been doing over the years, our nation would be closer to victory in the ﬁght to eliminate poverty and injustice.
Black History Month is the time that connections need to be made between the ancestors of Black heritage and the living inheritors. As educator Christopher Emdin wrote on our blog, the stories of past battles should never be told as if they are over or conquered. The stories are alive and playing out today. The connections are more powerful when they’re grounded in the context of history. In the spirit of Emdin’s observations, we’re offering a list of recommending reading to bridge the past with the present.
By Martin Luther King, Jr.: We all want to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction, to lead the parade. Alfred Adler, the great psychoanalyst, contends that this is the dominant impulse. Sigmund Freud used to contend that sex was the dominant impulse, and Adler came with a new argument saying that this quest for recognition, this desire for attention, this desire for distinction is the basic impulse, the basic drive of human life, this drum major instinct.
“It is our common tragedy that we have lost [Martin Luther King, Jr.’s] prophetic voice but it would compound the tragedy if the lessons he did articulate are now ignored.” So wrote Coretta Scott King in the forward of Dr. King’s final book Where Do We Go from Here, his analysis of American race relations and the state of the movement after a decade of civil rights efforts. Each year, we honor his life and his legacy on his birthday. 2018 will mark the fiftieth anniversary of his death—a time for us to take account of our troubled times and truly pay attention to the message of his lessons.
By Martin Luther King, Jr.: This Christmas season finds us a rather bewildered human race. We have neither peace within nor peace without. Everywhere paralyzing fears harrow people by day and haunt them by night. Our world is sick with war; everywhere we turn we see its ominous possibilities. And yet, my friends, the Christmas hope for peace and goodwill toward all men can no longer be dismissed as a kind of pious dream of some utopian. If we don’t have goodwill toward men in this world, we will destroy ourselves by the misuse of our own instruments and our own power.
By Jeanne Theoharis: The air was hot and sticky. Surrounded by clergy, Rev. William Barber lambasted the voter suppression that had compromised the 2016 presidential election. “Long before Russia hacked our election, our government was hacked by racism.” Since Barack Obama’s election in 2008 and the Supreme Court’s 2013 stripping of the Voting Rights Act, Barber explained, twenty-two states had passed new laws making it harder for people, particularly people of color, to vote.
Fifty years ago today, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “What Is Your Life’s Blueprint?” speech to students at Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia. In it, he lays out three important steps to follow in order for the students to reach their full potential, no matter their status life, and calls on them to actively commit to the struggle for freedom and justice. King’s words are inspirational for students of any age, of any era. Especially now during our troubled times. In honor of the speech’s anniversary, we’re looking at the ways the empowering message of his speech resonates and guides us still today.
By Joseph Rosenbloom: As a graduate student at Crozer Theological Seminary in Upland, Pennsylvania, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote about the social ill of poverty and vowed to do something about it. He put the resolve on hold. For his first decade as a civil rights leader, he dedicated himself to ending racial segregation and discrimination against African Americans, not poverty. By the mid-1960s, however, the idea to grapple with the issue of poverty had seized him with a fierce urgency. “What does it profit a man,” he often quipped, “to be able to sit at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t earn enough money to buy a hamburger and a cup of coffee?”
By Martin Luther King, Jr. This is no time for romantic illusions and empty philosophical debates about freedom. This is a time for action. What is needed is a strategy for change, a tactical program that will bring the Negro into the mainstream of American life as quickly as possible. So far, this has only been offered by the nonviolent movement. Without recognizing this we will end up with solutions that don’t solve, answers that don’t answer, and explanations that don’t explain.