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Dr King and the 'other America'

VISIONARY: Martin Luther King, Jr’s message has had a profound impact

ONCE AGAIN, on the third Monday in January, America and the rest of the world will mark the anniversary of the death of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Countless programmes and events will no doubt recall several of his famous speeches, from “I Have A Dream”, delivered in Washington, DC in 1963, to his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” delivered in Memphis during the 1968 sanitation workers’ strike.

In a life of just 39 years, Dr. King captured global attention in his valiant, nonviolent fight for the values of freedom, justice and equality.

Preaching and fighting for long overdue citizenship rights first promised to all in the Declaration of Independence, he championed economic justice – especially for black people to have safe, decent, and affordable housing. He also called for full participation in the economy and an end to financial exploitation.

Now, 51 years since his assassination, his words still strike a resonant chord. His words — written as prose but markedly poetic — remain as timely as they are timeless. “There are so many problems facing our nation and our world, that one could just take off anywhere,” Dr. King said in a speech delivered on April 14, 1967 at Stanford University.

Entitled, “The Other America” Dr. King began by recapping the nation’s bounty and beauty, noting how “America is overflowing with the milk of prosperity and the honey of opportunity”, and how “millions of young people grow up in the sunlight of opportunity”.

For his audience, those comments almost certainly reflected the lifestyles of the students attending one of the nation’s elite educational institutions.

In his inimitable Baptist cadence, Dr. King then went on to speak of the “Other America” that was equally real, but far removed from the commonplace privilege associated with Stanford.

“Little children in this other America are forced to grow up with clouds of inferiority forming every day in their little mental skies.

“As we look at this other America, we see it as an arena of blasted hopes and shattered dreams,” said Dr. King.

“It’s more difficult today because we are struggling for genuine equality. It’s much easier to integrate a lunch counter than it is to guarantee a liveable income and a good solid job. It’s much easier to guarantee the right to vote than it is to guarantee the right to live in sanitary, decent housing conditions.”

In 2019 the two Americas Dr. King wrote about still remain. A nation, once lauded for its enviable and expanding middle class, has evolved into a nation of people who are either growing wealthy or growing poor.

VANISHING

In this unfortunate process, the nation’s envied middle class is vanishing. Today’s black home ownership resembles the same levels experienced at the time of the 1968 Fair Housing Act’s passage.

In 1967, Dr. King advised his Stanford University audience, “Somewhere we must come to see that social progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals…. And so, we must help time, and we must realize that the time is always right to do right.”

This year, may we all honour Dr. King and do our respective efforts to make America live up to its promise of opportunity for all.

Charlene Crowell is the Center for Responsible Lending’s communications deputy director. She can be reached at charlene.crowell@ responsiblelending.org. This article appears courtesy of Black Press USA

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