Jan 05, 2020
This is my first column of the year. I deliberately choose to do it on a subject not directly related to the current election campaign for reasons I would explain in a subsequent column.
In a few days the world will stop to remember the life of the once little-known preacher turned Freedom Fighter, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. After much struggle, the USA agreed to set aside the third Monday in January to honour this superlative human being.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a day that has emotional overtones for African Americans and Blacks throughout the world, for Dr. King represents the best of Blackness and its various gifts to human civilization. But his memory is also a reminder of the vulnerability of Black lives and lived realities.
Almost 50 years after King’s assassination, African American young males were in 2015 nine times more likely to be killed by police than their white counterparts and the net worth of White families are eight times that of African American families.
Although African Americans are 12% of the population, they comprise 60% of the prison population. Professor Michelle Alexander has dubbed the Prison Industrial Complex, the “New Jim Crow.” She is referring to the manner in which imprisonment serves to politically and economically disenfranchise African Americans.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born in 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. By the time he was born, America was in the middle of the era of Segregation; a system that was crafted to ensure that the end of slavery did not mean freedom for the formerly enslaved population. The 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the American constitution were meant to write African Americans into the constitution as equal citizens, but these were overridden by State laws, popularly known as Jim Crow laws, which in effect nullified the amendments.
The Supreme Court, the final arbiter of the constitution, would in 1896 rule in the famous Plessy vs Ferguson case that African Americans had no social equality before the law; that they were in effect not equal citizens. This ruling would be the law of the land for the next six decades.
African Americans, therefore, had to engage in a new struggle to turn back this denial—a struggle that came to be known as the Civil Rights Movement. Starting with the birth of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), African Americans organized themselves on several fronts—political, economic, and cultural– to free themselves from what came to be known as “slavery by another name.”
Lynching of African Americans were as commonplace as the denial of basic services afforded to whites—separate and unequal existence.
By 1929, the Garveyite Movement led by Marcus Garvey and the Harlem Renaissance, pioneered by Black cultural activists and workers had captured the spirt of African American resistance. The Black Track and Field athlete, Jessie Owens, like the boxer Jack Johnson before him, and Jackie Robinson after, would transform the sporting arena into spaces for struggle against racism. The NAACP would keep testing the courts. Black labour organizations took up the cause of the exploitation of Black labour.
It is into that world that Martin Luther King Jr. was born, and in which he spent his childhood and early adulthood. His father was a preacher at a time when the Black preacher was invariably a Black Radical in the cause of Civil Rights.
King studied theology and philosophy and returned to the South as a preacher. He would have been aware of the lynching of young Emmet Till in 1954 for allegedly being fresh to a white woman. He would have also noted the groundbreaking ruling of the Supreme Court in the 1954 Brown vs Board of Education case that effectively overturned the Plessy decision, ending legal segregation.
Destiny took him to Montgomery, Alabama, where he began ministering to the flock. Then history unfolded; a little-known seamstress refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. The Montgomery Bus Boycott ensued, and Martin Luther King Jr. emerged as the leader. The boycott opened a floodgate that released boundless resistance which pounded the walls of Segregation. For the next thirteen years Dr. King, the reluctant leader, would emerge as the most famous leader of his generation.
His Civil Rights Revolution was guided by Non-Violence and Civil Disobedience. His was an unselfish sacrifice for the cause of freedom. He was almost knifed to death and he was thrown in jail many times. He spoke truth to power and walked the journey to the mountaintop. He was committed to non-violence, but he was not a coward—he never flinched in the face of sustained violence.
His 1963 rhetoric at the March on Washington would become an anthem for many; he moved history on that day. But above all, he gave hope to African Americans and other downtrodden people the world over. The passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were crowning achievements that finally brought African Americans full legal equality. He and his flock had overthrown the Mighty; they had finally overcome legal segregation.
The last three years of Dr. King’s life saw his evolution from the pragmatic Civil Rights leader to the consummate advocate of Black Empowerment in all dimensions. He confronted racism and class bigotry and called out American Imperialism. His last effort was The Poor People’s Campaign aimed at addressing the scourge of poverty in the midst of wealth. And inevitably they killed him in April 1968. American cities burned in retaliation, but the deed was done—the Prince of Peace and non-violence was gunned down in the most violent manner.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper)
More of Dr. Hinds’ writings and commentaries can be found on his YouTube Channel Hinds’ Sight: Dr. David Hinds’ Guyana-Caribbean Politics and on his website www.guyanacaribbeanpolitics.news. Send comments to email@example.com