August 28th marked the 51st anniversary of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. On that sweltering day in 1963, amidst an atmosphere of racial tension stoked by political indecisiveness, as well as acts of violent Southern resistance defined by bombings and bloody protests, 250,000 Americans converged on the National Mall. There, facing the Lincoln Memorial, educators, clergymen, entertainers, civil rights leaders, politicians and ordinary citizens listened to a day of speeches, prayers and song. They had gathered so that their voices could be heard throughout the nation, but one voice on that day would be heard above all others.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was the last speaker when he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. That historic oration is the subject of The Speech: The Story Behind Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream, by Chicago-based journalist Gary Younge. Its four chapters brim with key insights and revelations about those troubled times,
Most students of the 1960s may know about the FBI’s obsessive surveillance of Martin Luther King Jr. and how the bureau’s shadowing and bugging of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s president would lead federal agents to infiltrate the civil rights and peace movements. Now, a new book by Ben Kamin throws a spotlight on the man whose close friendship and collaboration with King provoked J. Edgar Hoover’s wrath and paranoia. Dangerous Friendship analyzes the relationship between King and Stanley Levison, a lawyer and wealthy businessman with a radical past. The book tells how Levison, known as King’s ghostwriter and closest white friend, advised King on strategy and raised righteous amounts of money for his cause; the story also shows how their friendship prompted the Kennedy White House to force King to shun Levison for more than a year.
Kamin, a nationally known rabbi, also explores how Levison’s personal solidarity with African American struggles reflected a traditional Jewish embrace of equality and social activism.
Most Americans today know that Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was killed 46 years ago in Memphis, Tennessee. But fewer know why he was there.
King went to Memphis to support African American garbage workers, who were on strike to protest unsafe conditions, abusive white supervisors, and low wages — and to gain recognition for their union. Their picket signs relayed a simple but profound message: “I Am A Man.”
If he were still alive, King would surely join the growing campaigns to unionize and improve pay and working conditions for janitors, security guards, hotel workers, hospital employees, farmworkers, grocery employees, and others who earn poverty-level wages. He might disrupt Walmart stockholder meetings to demand that the company pay employees a living wage, join fast-food workers in their quest for decent pay, and urge consumers to boycott the Gap, Walmart and other companies until they stop manufacturing their products in overseas sweatshops.
Last year, as we remembered the life and legacy of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we focused much of our attention on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. We reflected on the historical words that followed, “I have a dream” and reaffirmed our commitment to keeping the dream alive.
We measured our progress through victories such as the end of Jim Crow segregation, the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, and the election of our first African American President. We also talked about where we need to devote our efforts for the dream to become a reality.
With that, one year later we are reminded of the inequalities that still exist and the call to action we must all answer:
“I’m not in despair, because I know that there is a moral order. I haven’t lost faith, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”