To honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2020, CBS This Morning aired Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s children, Bernice King and Martin Luther King III, and his granddaughter, Yolanda King, reading part of the civil rights icon’s insightful, inclusive “The American Dream” sermon, which built upon and extended his iconic “I Have A Dream” speech from 1963’s March on Washington. (See a brief history of that speech here.)
MLK Jr. originally delivered the “American Dream” speech at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta in 1965. To hear King himself, listen below:
As time passes, it becomes easier and easier to venerate only those we habitually do and forget about those who fought the same fight but perhaps didn’t have as prominent a position in the battle.
So today, a week before we will all – rightfully – celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his significant contributions to the betterment of this nation, I want to focus on one of his brothers-in-arms, the charismatic lecturer, activist, freedom fighter and leader in his own right, Julian Bond.
Horace Julian Bond was born Jan. 14, 1940, in Nashville, Tennessee and passed in 2015 in Fort Walton Beach, Florida at the age of 75. His father, Horace Mann Bond, rose to become the first African-American president of his alma mater, Lincoln University. Though his father expected Julian to follow in his footsteps as an educator (which he eventually did), as a young man, Bond instead was attracted to political activism.
While a student at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Bond became one of original leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In 1960, after word spread of student sit-ins at lunch counters in Greensboro, N.C., Bond and others at Morehouse organized protests against segregated public facilities in Atlanta. Bond dropped out of Morehouse in 1961 to devote himself to the protest movement, but returned in the 1970s to complete his English degree.
Among the sit-ins and protests, Bond worked to register voters and in 1965 was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives. White members of the House refused to let him take his seat, accusing him of disloyalty, as Bond and SNCC were known for their stand against United States involvement in the Vietnam War.
His case against the House of Representatives went to all the way to the Supreme Court. In a unanimous decision in 1966, the Court ordered the Georgia state legislature to seat Bond on the grounds that it was denying Bond freedom of speech.
Bond served 20 years in the two houses of the legislature and while a lawmaker, he sponsored bills to establish and fund a sickle cell anemia testing program and to provide low-interest home loans to low-income Georgians. He also helped create a majority-black congressional district in Atlanta.
Bond also became a co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a legal advocacy organization based in Montgomery, Alabama, and served as its president from 1971 to 1979. He remained on its board for the rest of his life.
Bond published a book of essays titled “A Time to Speak, A Time to Act” about politics and the movement, and in 1998, Bond became chairman of the NAACP, serving in that position until 2010. Through the years, Bond also taught at Harvard, Williams, Drexel and the University of Pennsylvania.
While at Harvard, I had the personal honor and pleasure not only from taking a class from Bond, but also in taking him up on his offer to call him for dinner so he could spend time with and speak directly to his students. He didn’t give his office number – I didn’t speak to an assistant – I spoke to his wife, and then him.
Bond came to my dorm and had dinner with me and half a dozen other undergrads. He was kind, patient, thoughtful and wry – he answered all types of questions about MLK, SNCC and anything else we asked. What struck me the most when I wasn’t in complete awe, was how real and unassuming he was. No bluster, no overinflated sense of importance – just a man about the work he had done and was still doing until the day he died.
Julian Bond, thank you for your example, your service and for taking the time to make this then awkward undergraduate feel a little less awkward and that much more empowered. You are not and never will be forgotten.
Ever since I was four years old, I remember feeling powerless. I didn’t know it by name then, but looking back, powerlessness is what drove me every night, after I slid under my Raggedy Ann sheets and comforter, to wish and pray that when I woke up, I’d wake up a boy. Not because I felt like a boy inside, but because boys got to have what I couldn’t. Hair that didn’t have to be detangled or combed or braided. Action figures instead of dolls. Race cars with race tracks and pants to play in—always pants. In my four-year-old mind, boys had everything. Freedom. Choices. Power. Pants. But every morning like clockwork, the sun rose, I looked down, and I was denied yet again by The Man Upstairs. I was still Team Pink. I was still a girl.
I wore my disappointment more stoically than my dresses, because somehow I knew this was not a conversation to be had with either parent, or even my big sister (who was obsessed with boys in the acceptable way—with crushes and smiles and day dates to ice skating shows). I didn’t know how to voice the palpable inequity I was absorbing from our society, my culture, the media. That boys were considered the stronger, smarter, faster sex, who should be deferred to and in control. What I couldn’t find words for, but knew from the tips of my bobble ball hair ties to the soles of my patent leather Mary Janes, was that the way girls were devalued wasn’t fair, square or remotely close to justified.
Girls were just as smart and fast and valuable as boys—and once in a while, in between ads for EZ bake ovens and hungry toy babies and household products that would save me from a lifetime of dishpan hands, my TV echoed parts of this truth to me. I saw the “Bionic Woman” and “Wonder Woman” and Billie Jean King with the big glasses and small tennis racket beat the old, blustering Bobby guy in “The Battle of the Sexes.” And then there was Nadia from Romania who proved her ability at the Montreal Olympics, though her dainty and pretty were remarked upon more often than her athleticism and artistry. Even after her repeated displays of superlativeness, she stood there, half-smiling, as they gave most of the credit to her male coach. They might not have been black like me but they were girls like me, girls who liked to rip and run and use their bodies and brains for something other than to attract boys.
In my home, the messages were similarly mixed. My mom had a job just like my dad did. And as a teacher, when I went to work with her, I got to see a woman in charge. Of the space, the lessons, the students. I saw her leadership there, as well as in the house. Mom had as much authority as Dad (if not more) and my dad did the cooking. And since both parents were college graduates and educators, my sister and I were expected to do well in school, go to college and have a career.
Mom even gave my sister and me “School Years” memory books so we could track our progress from Kindergarten through High School. Who our friends and teachers were, our activities, awards, and what we wanted to be when we grew up. This aid to success ended up being one of the most painful reminders of the limited expectations the world had for me. The occupations listed for “Boys”? Policeman, Fireman, Astronaut, Soldier, Cowboy, Baseball Player. But for “Girls”? Mother, Nurse, School Teacher, Airline Hostess, Model, Secretary. In that order.
There was a “fill in the blank” space, so every year from Kinder on I filled it in with “Doctor.” By third grade, someone with a pink marker lined through my “Doctor” and checked “Secretary” instead. I rebelled with my blue marker and rubbed over the pink check next to “Secretary.” I didn’t remember this until I recently found the book, but it spoke volumes that someone in my life thought I was fantasizing if I wanted to be a doctor. In 1976. The same year of the U.S. Bicentennial, 200 years after independence from tyranny was declared and where colonists believed their liberty was worth their death. I, too, was fighting for liberty. My liberty. I wanted Batman, not Barbie, and I was tired of feeling wrong about it.
Years pass, and compliments about my cuteness are directed to me instead of my parents. I didn’t do anything to be cute—DNA did that—so this always feels weird. My mum tells me to not question or argue but just say “thank you.” Dutifully, I do. But being valued solely this way never sits right with me. I wanted “boy-style” compliments, about how clever or strong or skilled at whatever I was—praise that felt earned. I did receive some of this from the adults in my life, right alongside advice like, “Always have bus money so you don’t have to depend on boys for rides,” or, “No one buys the cow if the milk is free,” or, “It’s just as easy to marry a rich man as it is a poor one.”
When my parents separate and divorce, this family fracture ironically gets me more of what I want. Guilt presents include video games and model cars and Star Wars toys. And pants—jeans and corduroys! My mom says when she was younger, she was a tomboy too. She enrolls my sister (and eventually me) in softball, and buys me books about skateboarding but stops short of the skateboard—she thinks I will fall and break my head. If I were a boy, I think, she’d let me break my head. I try to build my own with a plank of wood and wheels from Mom’s ancient metal roller skates. It travels six inches, I fall off and it falls apart. When my dad gets a housekeeper for his new townhouse, she cleans my room and asks him how old his son is. Suddenly Dad won’t buy me any more model cars.
As puberty dawns, boys are still getting the better deal. Most of them grow into muscles and height and undeniable physical dominance. But should this give them more rights? Should more strength automatically equal more power? Boys (and several girls) seem to think so and this thinking is validated at every turn. In government, in movies, in the workplace, in classrooms. They can pick up girls at random and the girls squeal and laugh and cajole the boys to put them down instead of throwing them into the ocean/pool/sofa cushions. All in good fun, right? Not at all a display or reminder of dominance, right? Boys get to act on crushes and initiate kisses and ask for dates without being considered “fast” or “sluts” or “whores.” They also get no periods, no pregnancies, no abortions.
I am handed deodorant, pads and Judy Blume books as my teenage girl starter kit. I dislike the changes and growing pains and expectations of “blossoming into a young woman.” I focus on grades instead of gregariousness—studying instead of a social life. My big sister Lesa, a natural at young womanhood, follows in our grandmother and mother’s kick steps and becomes a varsity cheerleader. I scoff and diminish her choice by saying I’d rather be who people cheer for. Because some girls make fun of other girls for being too “girly.” I do not see the insidious danger of this for decades.
By 1986 I am a senior in high school, and being in the “smart girl” category has been a boon for me. I am not offered a cent for a cute outfit or a good hair day, but Dad pays good money for As and Bs. I also get to wear pants and sneakers and no make up everyday and no one cares. Mom and Lesa are officially the “pretty girls” with pretty power and that is alright by me. I have no jealousy or longing for “pretty” status— though most girls aspire to this, it seems more like a curse than a gift to me. Yes, my mother and sister get preferential treatment and constant compliments, which they enjoy. But I also see them experience the flip side. Men and boys would stalk them both. Put their hands on them without permission. Recklessly follow after them in traffic. This was weekly if not daily for them; for me it was rarely, but it should have been never. It should always be never. But as 99 percent of girls and women will tell you, it’s never never. I am approached by a pimp on a bus who tells me I look sad and he can take care of me. I exit at the next stop and walk the extra mile home to escape him. I am told to smile more times than I am asked for my opinion. One afternoon I’m followed by a man who screams I should be walking behind him and don’t know my place. I run into a 7-11 and stay huddled near the Ms. Pacman machine until he disappears. Oh hell no. Screw being treated like prey. Screw pretty.
Instead I want to be strong and quick. And thanks to Title IX, I can put my body in service to sports—softball, basketball, cross country. I do them all and excel at none. I am average in every way, but the existence of these girls’ teams does not live or die by any one of us having to prove exceptional ability. We have the freedom to suck and stay funded, just like the boys’ teams. This makes me wonder if society needs a version of Title IX not just for the sports field, but for every field. Shouldn’t we demand and legislate programs that provide equal opportunity for both sexes everywhere? So then over time, like with sports, this parity would become the norm? Why not try this out in politics, I think—like maybe in the Senate? After all, there are 100 senators, two from each state, so why not make them 50:50, one male and one female? Wouldn’t that be true equal representation? But I don’t know what to do with these notions, so I keep them to myself. What kind of power do I have to make them happen, anyway? I don’t my want my “smart girl” rep to become a “naive, silly, pie-in-the-sky girl” rep.
High school also offers me a lifelong mentor in the unlikely form of tough-as-nails, no nonsense, AP U.S. history teacher Mr. Safier. He values effort, intelligence and discipline above gender, race, class… or anything else, really. Finally I am celebrated for what I believe counts. Safier is more than safe harbor. He is an equalizer. After repeatedly killing it in his classes, one boy writes in my senior yearbook he’s lived in academic fear of me for almost two years. I love this. Now I have proof. Brains are my field-levelling power. And they are what get me into a top-notch university.
At first, college feels different than high school—better—like there is gender parity. Like “smart” is all that matters. Smart whomevers travel to Boston from wherever to spend four focused years getting smarter. But then the parties start. The blue lights, safety phones and shuttle bus stops are pointed out. Boys casually notice, girls mark their maps. We have political debates. Ideological tangles. We openly protest to take back the night. I make male and female friends of every race and religion and orientation and it all feels equitable and the way the real world should be. I don’t shave my legs all winter. I march with the Black Student Union to the freshman quad to demand I don’t remember what from the Dean. One Christmas I fly home sporting fake Malcolm X glasses, leather Africa medallions and a lot of opinions. My dad picks me up at the airport and later asks everyone in the family but me if I’m a lesbian. Dressed like that, politicized like that, with my “tomboy” history—what else could I be?
What my father does ask me about is what I want to do after college. Whatever it is, I’m told, I should want my boss’ job. That’s where the power is. If you don’t want your boss’ job, you have the wrong job. So if I still want to be a doctor, become Chief of Surgery. If I want to teach, become Teacher of the Year. I do journalism for fun at college because there’s no television station, so I tell him maybe I want to write. Then, Dad says, become the publisher. He sends me articles on mastery and how to achieve it. The bar is set high—as high for me as for the boy he never had, I think, so I accept his challenge. I try to jump that high. Into top positions. Into leadership. Into power.
Unlike Dad though, I think public sector work is for the birds, even when in the “power position.” Dad had achieved that – he rose from community college counsellor to assistant Dean, Dean (the youngest dean in California ever at the time), Vice President, President, then Chancellor of an entire district. He was the top dog, the leader. But then sometimes he would say if he were in the private sector, he would be a CEO making ten times as much money. But it just so happened his heart was in education, and he chose it over what could have been real wealth. Another mixed message I struggled to process. Go for heart or for money or for power? And do they have to be separate?
My power equation, I came to realize, extended beyond my father’s. Mine was leadership, plus affinity, plus money. And, luckily, I told myself, my heart was in writing—television to be specific—a very lucrative field. (Journalism, I’d discovered, paid even less than teaching). So I told him I wanted to follow the Hollywood path. I wanted to come back to California. Come back home.
On Wednesday night, the city of Memphis got rid of two Confederate statues, including a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The first of the statues to be removed was of Confederate Lt. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, a slave trader and a founder and “Grand Wizard” of the Ku Klux Klan, followed by the statue of Davis.
As police surrounded the scene with lights flashing, a jubilant crowd sang farewell to the statues: “Na na na na, na na na na, hey, hey, goodbye.”
Memphis is fast approaching the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. With that somber anniversary hanging over their heads, Memphis politicians suddenly lit a fire under their desire to get rid of the reminders of the Confederacy.
But the problem was the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act of 2016. That act prevented the removal of statues on public property without two-thirds of the board of the commission expressing their approval.
But facing the prospect of thousands of people coming to the city to celebrate MLK and finding Confederate statues there, the city worked around that law.
The kicker was the fact that statues “on public property” were affected by the law. On Wednesday, then, the city council let the mayor sell the parks to Memphis Greenspace Inc., a private nonprofit set up by Shelby County Commissioner Van Turner and others. Hours later, the statues, now on private property, were removed.
If you’ve ever seen or read an August Wilson play, you know that writing is how the late playwright processed the world around him – a magnificently black world filled with funk and nuance in which language plays a central role. For Wilson, though, learning how to work with that language as a writer didn’t happen overnight. “For the longest time I couldn’t make my characters talk,” Wilson told me several years ago before his death in 2005. “I thought in order to incorporate the black vernacular into literature, the language had to be changed or altered in some way to sound more clear … until I realized that it’s no less romantic and meaningful to say, ‘It’s cold outside.’” As a play, Wilson’s Fences, which tells the story of a working-class black man – who was denied a baseball career in the major leagues – trying to raise his family in mid-century Pittsburgh, gives us that blunt romance and powerful meaning. As a movie, it gives us Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. Enough said.
Fences is on nationwide release now
I don’t go in for horror films at all – not even horror film parodies – but I also can’t think of a brighter, more innovative voice in film right now than Jordan Peele, one half of the masterful sketch comedy series Key and Peele, which he co-created with Keegan-Michael Key. And while the potentially great Keanu, co-written by Peele and Alex Rubin, was a disappointing failure, Get Out, which Peele both wrote and directed, looks legitimately genius. The premise is a pretty straightforward Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner setup – rich white girlfriend brings her smart, learned black boyfriend upstate for a weekend to meet the parents – what could go wrong? It’ll be awkward, parents will remark more than once on how articulate the black boyfriend is, lecture them both on how hard it will be to maintain an interracial relationship in this day and age, and then finally concede that love is all that matters. Or will it?
Get Out will be in theaters February 24
In America, when it comes to the mainstream celebration of black historical figures, we primarily see the spotlight shined on our athletes, entertainers and a handful of activists who generally get depoliticized posthumously. Seldom do we hear about engineers, innovators and mathematicians, much less our black women in those positions. It’s thrilling and really quite long overdue for a film like Hidden Figures, which tells the story of “colored computers” Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, who worked at NASA in the early 1960s and played a vital role in getting John Glenn and the Friendship 7 into space. As Katherine Johnson, Taraji P. Henson is on career-best form – pushing her glasses up on her nose, hustling to the coloreds bathroom carrying a stack of data research, doing mathematical equations on a chalkboard – creating a truly revelatory performance. Octavia Spencer as Dorothy and Janelle Monáe as Mary are icing on the cake. An added bonus comes in the form of Pharrell Williams, who is a producer on the film and wrote original songs for the soundtrack that give the movie a beautiful sense of joy.
Hidden Figures is in nationwide release now
I Am Not Your Negro
The thing about James Baldwin, beyond his utter brilliance and undeniable prescience as a writer and public intellectual, is that he was like the blackest man who ever lived. And he wore it like a badge of honor. In the newly Oscar-nominated documentary I Am Not Your Negro, Haitian-born film-maker Raoul Peck mines Baldwin’s unpublished writing about the assassinations of Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X to create an intellectual and visual mosaic that somehow captures Baldwin’s own very personal and stubborn sense of blackness. It hits hard, and the film will make you long for the leadership and integrity of Evers, King and Malcolm in these increasingly divisive times. But it will also, if only temporarily, let you sit in the glory that is James Baldwin’s company.
Although Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday will not be nationally observed until tomorrow, January 16, we want to honor King today as well, on his actual day of birth.
To learn more about this monumental agent of political and social change, go to biography.com, and to listen to a speech of his more relevant today than ever, check out this concluding segment from 1967’s “Where Do We Go From Here?” above.
Some stirring quotes from this speech of Dr. King’s include:
… I’m concerned about a better world. I’m concerned about justice; I’m concerned about brotherhood; I’m concerned about truth. And when one is concerned about that, he can never advocate violence. For through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can’t murder murder. Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can’t establish truth. Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can’t murder hate through violence. Darkness cannot put out darkness; only light can do that.
And I say to you, I have also decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind’s problems. And I’m going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn’t popular to talk about it in some circles today. And I’m not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love; I’m talking about a strong, demanding love. For I have seen too much hate. I’ve seen too much hate on the faces of sheriffs in the South. I’ve seen hate on the faces of too many Klansmen and too many White Citizens Councilors in the South to want to hate, myself, because every time I see it, I know that it does something to their faces and their personalities, and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. I have decided to love. If you are seeking the highest good, I think you can find it through love.
Three brothers from Tottenham, North London, are on a mission to raise the self-esteem of African Caribbean children through books.
Sulaiman Lee, Noel Kerr and Leonegus Darealest are the trio behind Black Child Promotions, which aims to give children a positive view of their identity through the works of a range of authors.
The men hope to give young people access to knowledge about prominent black figures such Marcus Garvey and Martin Luther King, Jr., successful black empires and movements, African Caribbean fables and folk stories as well as the writings of influential black political leaders.
One of the trio, Lee, told The Voice: “We have titles from the likes of Maya Angelou to Iyanla Vanzant to Amos N. Wilson and Dr. Yosef Ben-Jochannan. We have something for everyone, children’s stories, political books, poetry, autobiographies and more.”
He added: “For us, Black History isn’t just for one month, it’s all year round and that’s exactly what we want to show people. We believe we need to promote black history more, as it isn’t something we see widely in the media or something that our children are learning about at school.”
The trio has recently set up a stall outside Brixton tube station and another one outside Stratford tube station in a bid to reach as many people as they can and engage them about the importance of reading.
However their main location for the last 12 years has been in Seven Sisters, north London.
The event attracted a bevy of black Hollywood stars, who celebrated the legacy of King and other black historical icons. Some stars paid tribute through musical performances, like India.Arie, who praised Shirley Chisholm. Others, including Rock, gave powerful recitals.
Rock, who will host the Oscars next month, read the words to Baldwin’s widely praised 1963 letter, “My Dungeon Shook.” Watch Rock’s full performance (he takes the stage around the 1:44 mark) by clicking here.
Stone Mountain in Georgia, which was once known for its Ku Klux Klan cross burnings, will soon be adding something very interesting: a tower/memorial in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
The tower will feature a replica of the Liberty Bell. And accordingly it will give a literal interpretation to the line “Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia” from Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
The Stone Mountain Memorial Association, the authority that maintains the mountain and surrounding Stone Mountain Park, said in a statement that the “King Monument Bell” will “facilitate a more complete telling of the mountain’s history and an expansion of the park’s educational offerings.”
The statement also said additions will include a permanent museum exhibit to recognize contributions of African-American soldiers in both the Union and Confederate armies.
Though the association’s board has yet to take any formal action, its CEO, Bill Stephens, told Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Jim Galloway that the King tribute is “a great addition to the historical offerings we have here.”
Galloway was instrumental in pushing for the idea.
In the aftermath of the killings of nine African-Americans at Charleston, South Carolina’s, historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in June, Galloway proposed that Stone Mountain — “a three-dimensional history lesson (that) has pushed a one-sided view of America’s bloodiest conflict,” in his words — be made more representative of Southern history.
Stone Mountain, he observed, is within a predominately African-American community just outside Atlanta. The mountain and surrounding Stone Mountain Park are popular gathering spots for multicultural metro Atlanta, with much-hiked trails to the 825-foot summit and bucolic landscaping.