Tag Archives: Martin Luther King Day

Honoring Martin Luther King

In 1968, Martin Luther King asked, ““What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t have enough money to buy a hamburger?”

If King were alive today, he’d be on the picket lines with the fast-food workers seeking a fair wage.

Every year, politicians line up to express their admiration for Dr. King, and to be seen as supportive of King’s goal of equality for all. It is likely past time that those who declare their support evidence it by actually supporting policies promoted by King and the movement for equal justice.

Let’s adopt a national “Just and Livable Wage” sometime before the very next day honoring Martin Luther King.


That Was Then, This Is Now — Some Things Never Change

The following excerpt is taken from an article written by Martin Luther King for The Nation 42 years ago. Segregation today is getting worse than it has been in 30 years but it is segregation de facto rather than de jure. There are more slaves in the world today, including in the United States, than there were in 1863 when President Lincoln proclaimed emancipation. Poverty is more prevalent today than it was when King chose to transform his anti-segregation movement into an anti-poverty movement. The one constant is the position of “liberals”, liberals don’t want to take on the big issues, they’re afraid of offending, they’re desperate for approval, they’re weak and woosie and require a courage suitable to their convictions.

Part of the blame must be laid to the Administration’s
cautious tactics. Early in the year, the President
backed away from the Senate I fight to amend Rule 22,
the so-called filibuster rule; had he entered the fray,
the amendment would probably have passed and the
greatest obstacle to the passage of civil-rights
legislation would have been smashed. (Despite this
experience,  the President again remained aloof, under
similar  circumstances, in January of this year, and
again the amendment failed to carry.) True, 1962 was the
year of the Cuban crisis, which understandably tended to
dwarf all other issues. Yet even in the shadow of Cuba,
such issues as trade legislation and tax reform took the
play away from civil rights in editorial columns, public
debate and headlines.

The Administration’s circumscribed actions, in the
civil-rights field was generally accepted by, the
public;. even liberal forces proved watchful rather than
anxious, hopeful rather than insistent. The demand for
progress was somehow drained of its moral imperative,
and the issue no longer commanded the conscience of the
nation as it had in previous years.

The decline of civil rights as the Number One domestic
issue was a direct consequence, I believe, of the rise
and public acceptance of “tokenism.” The American people
have, not abandoned the quest for equal rights; rather,
they have been persuaded to accept token victories as
indicative of genuine and satisfactory progress.

An impressive list of government actions took place in
1962 affecting job opportunities, voting rights,
desegregation bf public facilities, the appointment of
Negroes to official posts, housing discrimination, etc.
In fairness, it must be said that this Administration
has outstripped previous ones in the breadth of its
civil-rights activities. Yet the movement, instead of
breaking out into the open plains of progress, remains
constricted and confined. A sweeping revolutionary force
is pressed into a  narrow  tunnel.

This is inevitable when sharply limited goals are set as
objectives in place of substantial accomplishments.
While merely 7 per cent of Negro children in the South
attend integrated schools, the major battle of the year
was over one Negro in a Mississippi university. Two
thousand school districts remain segregated after nearly
a decade of litigation based upon Supreme Court

Hundreds of Southern communities continue to segregate
public facilities, yet even after the immense efforts
and sacrifices of the weary Negro citizens of Albany,
Ga., the government enters the fray only at the
periphery, filing an amicus curiae brief & a law suit.

Negro unemployment has mounted to double the proportion
of white, unemployment, and government action produces a
handful of jobs in industries possessing government

Housing discrimination confines Negroes to slums, North
and South, and  an Executive Order forbidding it affects
the smallest possible area.

If tokenism were our goal, this Administration has
adroitly moved us towards its accomplishment. But
tokenism can now be seen not only as a useless goal, but
as a genuine menace. It is a palliative which relieves
emotional distress, but leaves the disease and  its
ravages unaffected. It tends to demobilize and relax the
militant spirit which alone drives us forward to real

Tokenism was the inevitable outgrowth of the
Administration’s design for dealing with discrimination.
The Administration sought to demonstrate to Negroes that
it has concern for them, while at the same time it has
striven to avoid inflaming the opposition. The most
cynical view holds that it wants the vote of both and is
paralyzed by the conflicting needs of each. I am not
ready to make a judgment condemning the motives of the
Administration as hypocritical. I believe that it,
sincerely wishes to achieve change, but that it has
misunderstood the forces at play. Its motives may better
be judged when and if it fails to correct mistakes as
they are revealed by experience.

The day for assessing that experience is at hand. Token
gains may well halt our progress, rather than further
it. The time has come when the government must commit
its immense resources squarely on the side of the quest
for freedom. This is not a struggle in which government
is a mere mediator. Its laws  are being violated.

In a dispute between capital and labor, the government
may assume the role of mediator when the simple
determination of wages is the issue. But it, did not
assume this role in the `30s, when the issue was a basic
right-the freedom of labor to organize and be
represented. Then a law of stern and sweeping power put
the government wholly on labor’s side. A National Labor
Relations Board legislated and enforced labor rights in
every nook and cranny of the nation, bending the most
powerful corporations into compliance.

Negro rights have no comparable government bastion.
Negroes are isolated in communities which daily violate
their constitutional privileges with total impunity. The
government cannot merely mediate, because basic legal
rights are involved, The scale on which violations exist
is so vast that limited approaches will never reach the
evil; only enforcement machinery of vast proportions
will be equal to the task.

Government has not accepted the philosophy of tokenism
in defense of economic planning. We have created
scientific and industrial miracles: computers solve in
minutes problems humans would require hundreds of years
to calculate; man-made instruments guide missiles
millions of miles into space, measuring and analyzing
the components of other worlds. Yet in a luncheonette in
a Southern town, the government cannot make the
Constitution function for human rights.

The government cannot merely mediate because the
national interest is deeply involved. The widespread,
blatant and persistent denial of human rights in huge
regions of our nation constitutes our gravest weakness
before world tribunals and world opinion. Our national
interest compels us to do more than seek tokens of

I stated at the outset that while 1962 was the year in
which civil rights receded as the primary domestic
issue, it was also a year that marked a favorable
turning point in this area. In what sense can 1962 be
considered ‘favorable”?

The Kennedy Administration may have embraced tokenism as
a least common denominator, acceptable to the whole
South. But the fact is that this approach is tactically
and strategically unsound: the South is not, today, one
whole. It is already split, fissured into two parts; one
is ready for extensive change, the other adamantly
opposed to any but the most trivial alterations. The
Administration should not seek to fashion policies for
the latter; it should place its weight behind the
dynamic South, encouraging and facilitating its
progressive development.

The simple and arresting truth that became clear in 1962
is that significant elements of the South have come to
see that segregation has placed the whole region
socially, educationally, and economically behind the
rest of the nation. What is the evidence for this?  The
following are quotations from the leading white
newspaper of the South, the Atlanta Constitution:

   We have stopped justifying and begun rectifying
   racial  wrongs. We have traded self-deception for
   self- respect. . . .

   This is the South we are proud of-a land of
   gentlemen, plain-spoken, manly and respectful of
   their people . . . not a swampland of the deceitful
   where weaselers dodge and cavil and speak half-
   truths to the unknowing. . , .

   As a Negro is freed from force, the white man is
   freed from guilt; as narrow political systems pass,
   our people broaden; as schooling improves, factory
   payrolls will multiply and as America  grows, the
   South will more than match her. The South is going
   to pass her. For here on the final frontier,
   greatness is setting in. . .

In the same week these challenging words were writtten
as a Declaration of Independence of a new South, the
Governor of North Carolina declared in plain-spoken
terms that discrimination in employment in his state
must go.

This is the moment for government to drive a wedge into
the splitting South, spreading it open. Negroes and
enlightened whites have already built alliances which
are registering momentous gains in the electoral arena.
In 1962, Georgia, on the basis of a Negro-white de facto
alliance, elected a moderate Governor, a moderate Mayor
in Atlanta, a  moderate Congressman from the most
populous county, and sent a Negro to the State Senate
for the first time in nearly a hundred years.

The South is fissuring along a seam which divides the
industrializing regions from the stagnating, backward,
agricultural areas. This is significant because the new
social and political attitudes are rooted in economic
necessity. New industry will not come where dying
customs create social tensions, second-rate education
and cities without the cultural institutions required
for the technical personnel of modern industry.

In short, communities have learned that they cannot live
in the past and enjoy the fruits of the present. More
and more Southerners are speaking out, telling plain
truths to the bitter and the blind. Enlightened self-
interest makes them accept the Negro’s drive for freedom
as an ally rather than an enemy.

There will still be differences of opinion in the South.
Yet the present direction is forward and the areas in
which blind conflict rages are narrowing. We will
continue to know jails at first hand because change will
not come easily in many places. Nevertheless, we will
negotiate desegregation into oblivion in one community
as we batter its stubborn walls in another.

The crystallizing of this new social revolution
confronts the Administration with the responsibility to
pattern programs in bold designs. In place of timorous
steps suitable for the Old South, the government should
turn to the New South, giving it the aid it needs.

The Administration is at a historic crossroad. It has at
stake its moral commitment, and with it its political
fortunes. It will not weaken its international posture,
but strengthen it, if it takes the grades of school
should be accepted road to democratization, of the South
in active unity with the enlightened South-white and
Negro. It will not suffer domestically, because its fate
in the large Northern cities will turn on the Negro
electorate and these cities will determine who occupies
the White House.

The President has called for civil rights legislation in
the present session of Congress in the face of earlier
counsels of despair-the hostility of Congress, he was
told, made any such proposals futile. The President’s
specific program includes some constructive measures.
Regarding voting and registration, he has again
introduced the proposal that completion of six grades of
school should be accepted as evidence of literacy,
qualifying the applicant for registration. Thousands of
potential voters can be benefited by such a law. He has
further proposed a mechanism for by-passing obstructive
local registrars by specifying objective standards under
which Federal Registrars may be appointed to qualify

A legislative struggle this year need not be a quixotic
exercise in futility. The obstructive coalition of
Southern Democrats and Conservative Republicans can be
split on this issue. The Republicans cannot afford to
block civil rights legislation which the President
earnestly sponsors, and Southern Democrats cannot defeat
it if they are isolated; if, however, the President is
lethargic, the Republicans can be tranquil. They can
content themselves merely with criticizing the President
in absence of real challenge. If civil rights is
elevated to the urgency that trade, tax and military
legislation enjoys, 1963 can be a year of achievement
and not another annual experience with frustration.

These are practical political considerations all
dictating one road. Yet above it all, a greater
imperative demands fulfillment. Throughout our history,
the moral decision has always been the correct decision.
From our determination to be free in 1776, to our
shedding of the evil of chattel slavery in 1863, to our
decision to stand against the wave of fascism in the
1930s, we grew and became stronger in our commitment to
the democratic tradition. The correct decision in 1963
will make it a genuine turning point in human rights.
One hundred years ago a President, tortured by doubts,
finally ended slavery and a new American society took
shape. Lincoln had hoped the slavery issue could be
relegated to secondary place, but life thrust it into
the center of history. There segregation, the evil
heritage of slavery, remains.

As the boldface type suggests the leading impediment to justice in our times is not the angry opposition of those who benefit from the continuance of evil but the lukewarm hesitancy of those who recognize evil but refuse to act against it. In the 1960s, a minority sought equality; in the first quarter of the 21st century, a vast majority seeks equal justice in the face of opposition from a privileged wealthy class of banksters, corporateers, the ultrarich and other assorted criminals.

Time for an Unemployed People’s Movement; One Way to Truly Memorialize Martin Luther King Jr.

Isaiah J Poole:

When Martin Luther King Jr. gave the sermon at the
National Cathedral [1] in Washington on March 31, 1968
to highlight the Poor People’s Campaign he was
organizing for later that spring, unemployment was
hovering just under 7 percent–for African Americans.
The nationwide average was under 4 percent.

Last week the Labor Department reported unemployment
rates that were more than double that–9.4 percent
nationally; 15.8 percent for African Americans.

It is sobering to remember that King was working to
mobilize a demonstration in Washington of thousands of
low-income and unemployed people  that critics feared
would paralyze the city in response to economic
conditions that in some ways are better than what
Americans face today. in 1968, fewer than 14 percent of
Americans were living in poverty; in 2009, that
percentage was 14.3 percent. Yet King saw conditions
dire enough to call for “dramatic nonviolent action  to
call attention to the gulf between promise and
fulfillment; to make the invisible visible.”

Numbers like these don’t tell the full story of the
difference between the struggles of low-income people
and African Americans in the late 1960s and today. But
the fact remains that the economic disenfranchisement
that King saw in 1968 moved him and others to stage a
grassroots showdown in Washington. Imagine what King
might have already organized had he been alive to see
the effects of the conservative economic policies of
the past decade that have devastated people across
lines of race and geography.

Today, 6.4 million Americans have been out of work for
27 weeks or more; 2 million have exhausted a total of
99 weeks of unemployment benefits and have no resource
for more aid as they wait for the economy to improve.
There is one estimate that the number of “99ers” will
increase by an additional 4 million in 2011. The
economy would have to grow fast enough to produce
334,000 new jobs a month just to employ these 99ers.

But almost no one believes that the economy will be
able to generate that much growth on its own anytime
soon, and few people in Congress are willing to sail
against the prevailing political wind that says the
federal government should just stand back and watch
from the sidelines.

In the National Cathedral sermon, King observed, “We
read one day, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident,
that all men are created equal, that they are endowed
by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that
among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of
Happiness.’ But if a man doesn’t have a job or an
income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the
possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely

Jobs should be the first order of business of the 112th
Congress. But when the new, Republican-led House of
Representatives goes back to work on the week of
January 18 its first agenda item will be the repeal of
health care reform. Notwithstanding the labeling of
their action as the “Repealing the Job-Killing Health
Care Law Act,” not one job will be created or saved by
the House vote. (Likewise, there is no substance [2] to
the claim that the health care reform law is “job-

The focus for both parties will then quickly turn to
budget-cutting and a showdown over the lifting of the
debt ceiling. Absent from the discussion would be the
most important action that Congress could take this
year: a multibillion-dollar program of direct spending
on jobs, one that would immediately put people to work
on the myriad jobs that need to be done, from paving
streets to staffing public libraries.

Today’s political wisdom says that’s not practical,
especially in an age of trillion-dollar deficits. King
had an answer to the critics of his day who said that
it was too much to ask the nation to take care of its
citizens while it was spending millions upon millions
of dollars to kill the citizens of Vietnam. “On some
positions, cowardice asks the question, is it
expedient? And then expedience comes along and asks the
question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is
it popular? Conscience asks the question, is it right?”

It is right to elevate the plight of today’s unemployed
and demand that they be given jobs. We should not
accept the constrictions on today’s political debate,
which limits our horizons to variations of the
discredited conservative notion that giving business
what it wants–few rules to follow and even fewer taxes
to pay–will lead to a revitalized middle-class
America, when in fact we’ve already done this for more
than a decade and what we have gained is a shrinking
middle class caught in a race to the bottom.

As King did in 1968, we face an America that is
spending $171 billion this fiscal year alone on the
wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. To extend the Bush-era
tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans, those who have
rebounded quickly from this country’s financial crisis,
Congress voted to add $68 billion to the budget deficit
a year for at least the next two years. Why should we
not ask our government to spend $100 billion on a
program, along the lines of the Local Jobs for America
proposal [3] that Congress failed to pass last year,
that would put 1 million people to work on the jobs
that will provide vital services and prepare the ground
for a broadly shared private sector revival?

There are, in fact, members of Congress–leaders in the
House Progressive Caucus and allies in the Senate–who
know that there must be a few voices in Congress
willing to fight for the unemployed and for the
policies that will get them good jobs in the short- and
the long run. All they need is encouraging from a
grassroots movement that dramatizes the continuing
plight of the unemployed pushes the policy debate
beyond its current limits.

In his Poor People’s Campaign speech, King said a march
on Washington is necessary “because it is our
experience that the nation doesn’t move around
questions of genuine equality for the poor and for
black people until it is confronted massively,
dramatically in terms of direct action.”

With a conservative Congress in the name of deficit
reduction seeking to box President Obama into making
choices that would stymie the economic growth and job-
creation we need, we could use a massive, dramatic
confrontation on behalf of the more than 27 million who
are unemployed or underemployed today. The spirit of
Martin Luther King Jr. would certainly be in its midst.



Prepared on behalf of the Campaign for America’s Future and distributed by Portside, the e-news service of the Committees of Correspondence (see Links)

Abraham, Martin & John