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Where Do We Go From Here: 50 Years of Divine Dissatisfaction

       It has been fifty years since Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination on April 4, 1968. In remembrance of this tragic date, the Campolo Institute for Applied Research in Social Justice has been drawing attention to one of King’s most enduring speeches, “Where Do We Go From Here?” This speech was given on Aug., 16, 1967, at the 11th Annual Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. In celebration of Black History Month, and to help promote the Campolo Institute’s essay contest focused on the speech, the editors of the Waltonian  wanted to feature some of the powerful insights presented in the speech, as well as reflections from Eastern University faculty.

MLK ON HISTORY

In this decade of change, the Negro stood up and confronted his oppressor. He faced the bullies and the guns, and the dogs and the tear gas. He put himself squarely before the vicious mobs and moved with strength and dignity toward them and decisively defeated them. And the courage with which he confronted enraged mobs dissolved the stereotype of the grinning, submissive Uncle Tom.  He came out of his struggle integrated only slightly in the external society, but powerfully integrated within. This was a victory that had to precede all other gains.

         In short, over the last ten years the Negro decided to straighten his back up, realizing that a man cannot ride your back unless it is bent. We made our government write new laws to alter some of the cruelest injustices that affected us. We made an indifferent and unconcerned nation rise from lethargy and subpoenaed its conscience to appear before the judgment seat of morality on the whole question of civil rights. We gained manhood in the nation that had always called us “boy.” It would be hypocritical indeed if I allowed modesty to forbid my saying that SCLC stood at the forefront of all of the watershed movements that brought these monumental changes in the South. For this, we can feel a legitimate pride. But in spite of a decade of significant progress, the problem is far from solved. The deep rumbling of discontent in our cities is indicative of the fact that the plant of freedom has grown only a bud and not yet a flower.

MLK ON LANGUAGE

      Even semantics have conspired to make that which is black seem ugly and degrading. In Roget’s Thesaurus there are some 120 synonyms for blackness and at least sixty of them are offensive, such words as blot, soot, grim, devil, and foul. And there are some 134 synonyms for whiteness and all are favorable, expressed in such words as purity, cleanliness, chastity, and innocence. A white lie is better than a black lie. The most degenerate member of a family is the “black sheep.” Ossie Davis has suggested that maybe the English language should be reconstructed so that teachers will not be forced to teach the Negro child sixty ways to despise himself, and thereby perpetuate his false sense of inferiority, and the white child 134 ways to adore himself, and thereby perpetuate his false sense of superiority. The tendency to ignore the Negro’s contribution to American life and strip him of his personhood is as old as the earliest history books and as contemporary as the morning’s newspaper.

        To offset this cultural homicide, the Negro must rise up with an affirmation of his own Olympian manhood. Any movement for the Negro’s freedom that overlooks this necessity is only waiting to be buried.  As long as the mind is enslaved, the body can never be free. Psychological freedom, a firm sense of self-esteem, is the most powerful weapon against the long night of physical slavery. No Lincolnian Emancipation Proclamation, no Johnsoni) Yes, yes, we must stand up and say, “I’m black but I’m black and beautiful.” This, this self-affirmation is the black man’s need, made compelling  by the white man’s crimes against him.”

MLK ON LOVE AND POWER:

      One of the great problems of history is that the concepts of love and power have usually been contrasted as opposites, polar opposites, so that love is identified with a resignation of power, and power with a denial of love. It was this misinterpretation that caused the philosopher Nietzsche, who was a philosopher of the will to power, to reject the Christian concept of love. It was this same misinterpretation which induced Christian theologians to reject Nietzsche’s philosophy of the will to power in the name of the Christian idea of love. Now, we got to get this thing right. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best, power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love. And this is what we must see as we move on.

 

EASTERN UNIVERSITY FACULTY REFLECT:

Dr.William Storm Professor of English

As I thought over Dr. King’s words, I was struck by the sense of how easily we tend to focus on end-goals when it comes to struggles for rights. We become satisfied with the fact that laws become enacted with the Great Society, and we become satisfied when the first African-American becomes President of the United States, thinking ourselves in a post-racial society. There are so many areas where I would imagine Dr. King would be calling our attentions–income inequality, the continued wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, beyond continued injustices against marginalized groups–and even if those things were to become better, it would not lead to complacency. What, as a Christian institution, should we focus our attentions on? What, as educators, should we focus our attentions on? How can we, in the words of St. Ignatius,  continue “to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labor and not to ask for reward?”

Dr. Sandra Bauer Social Work Department Chair

MLK suggests we “recognize where we are now.”  I was struck by the similarity of the issues in his day and currently, yet he did not lose hope and acted on his concern about justice and truth and “decided to stick with love.”  So let us use our intellect and heart and MOVE.”

Dr.Eloise Meneses Professor of Cultural Anthropology

Where do we go from here?  Dr. King states, “First, we must massively assert our dignity and worth,” and that to do this it will be necessary to deal with “the forces of power dedicated to the preserving of the status quo.”  Today, in 2018, Black people are still being gunned down in our streets in full view of video-cameras that make little or no difference to the forces of power.  It is the modern form of lynching.  “America, you must be born again!”

Dr. Sharon Gramby-Sobukwe Professor of Political Science

Fifty years since his assassination, we face the fierce urgency of now as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. described, “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there “is” such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action”  Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence, 4 April 1967). Cities, suburbs and rural towns are divided along race, class and gender lines, representing two distinct ways of life, one of privilege and wealth, the other of poverty, police brutality, low and poverty wages, collapsed schools and collapsing neighborhoods. As a nation we spend more on prisons, police, and the military than on schools, eliminating poverty, providing jobs with living wages and homes. But, it’s now time to break the silence about this, what Dr. King called the triple evils: racism, poverty and militarism. These forms of violence, indeed terror, exist in a vicious cycle, deteriorating hope, progress and opportunity, as a result of humankind’s depravity toward its own.

       It’s time to build a beloved community, where racism, bigotry and prejudice are not tolerated and the continual reproduction of poverty, hunger and homelessness ceases  (Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence, 4 April 1967).  We need beloved community where disputes are resolved within, through peaceful conflict-resolution and equitable laws serve the ends of justice.  We need beloved community founded upon a qualitative change in our souls as well as in our lives, a true revolution of values that will cause us to question the fairness and justice of our past and present.  We need beloved community, grounded in a love sublime, an all-embracing love for all God’s children. Who else, but followers of Christ like Dr. King, should continue his legacy.

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