Perspectives

Thoughts on Martin Luther King's legacy and today’s obstacles to full freedom

By Eric Ture Muhammad | Last updated: Feb 5, 2013 - 11:36:37 AM

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Winning battles and losing a war?

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ATLANTA (FinalCall.com) - January 15 marked the 86th birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and this August will make 50 years since the 1963 March on Washington, D.C.

On that day, more than 250,000 people converged on the nation’s Capital in a call for lawmakers to end Jim Crow laws, economic injustice and offer a greater share of America’s professed, guaranteed liberties to all her citizens. The Jan. 21 national King Holiday celebration coincided with the second inauguration of President Barack Hussein Obama.

“Lincoln freed the slaves and King freed a nation,” Rep. John Lewis (D-GA.) told The Final Call. “There could be no President Barack Obama today, if there had not been a Martin Luther King, Jr.,” said the former King aide.

Yet, in 2013, economic injustice, threats to civil liberties, discrimination, and political disenfranchisement are coupled with daily struggles to survive.

Far from the iconic song We Shall Overcome or the I Have a Dream speech, pleasant words about Dr. King and memories of the March on Washington, civil rights activists and analysts told The Final Call that their movement was more than a struggle: It was a war. A war, they say, that has intensified and continues.

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King at a Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration

“We won the battle, but 50 years later we are losing the war,” Andrew Young, a former UN Ambassador, Georgia congressman and mayor of Atlanta told The Final Call regarding voter rights. “Voter participation in America ranks 138th of the 172 democracies throughout the world,” he said. “Too many Americans can’t get registered or are being turned away at the polls; too many have forgotten the battle we fought for and don’t take advantage of that precious right. Our voting system is broken and everyone knows it. Now is the time to fix it once and for all.”

This is one of many struggles that continue, but an important one, said the civil rights leader. “As foot soldiers in a non-violent crusade, there was one battleground on which we knew we could win the war of bigotry, the one place where all American citizens were equal: the voting booth. As Martin said as we marched to Montgomery, ‘The longest step for society is that short sweet step to the ballot box,’ ” said the King lieutenant.

Amb. Young said when U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson stood before a joint session of Congress in 1965 and vowed to enforce President Abraham Lincoln’s promise of one man one vote, noting that 100 years was already too long for the so-called Negro to wait, “it was the only time I saw Martin weep.”

Asked what the current president can do with his second term and what could be achieved in this struggle for Blacks, Amb. Young replied, “Be the best president that he can be. The issues that the president faces, Dr. King was not even aware of 50 years ago, or 45 years ago when he was killed.”

“If I hear that I Have A Dream speech one more time, I am going to explode,” said Elisabeth Omilami, whose father was the late civil rights leader and movement maverick Hosea Williams. Ms. Omilami is president and executive director of Hosea Feed the Homeless and Family.

Known also as Hosea “Unbought and Unbossed,” the King disciple started the most time cash-strapped shoestring operation after the assassination of Dr. King. Its daily mission is to feed, clothe, bathe and assist homeless men and women with obtaining homes, jobs, family restoration and connecting them to government or agency programs.

The daughter, who shares her father’s work and candor, told The Final Call mainstream myths and adulation do not mirror the true Dr. King.

“He was so much more than that. He was more than I could have ever been in my dreams. They (mass media) don’t write about the whole Martin Luther King,” she said. “The movement in their time was divinely guided. They did not know anything about how to do what they were doing—other than that they had to have respect. And having that respect meant, ‘I go where I want to go, live where I can afford to live … I have been given a promise; I live in a system and this system owes me and my family.’ ”

“Dr. King talked to us about ‘a brotherhood community.’ He had a vision of equality and quality of life for everyone,” she added.

Previous roadmaps to progress using politics, education and access to wealth failed and those pursuits are failing us now because “this is a spiritual battle. This is a spiritual battle for the heart of humanity. So the church must step up and embrace the community as its own, because that is the job of the church and that was Dr. King’s vision for it,” she said. “Everybody in the Civil Rights movement is reverend this or reverend that, their roles with those titles were not flushed fully out.”

Ms. Omilami continued, “And we know that Dr. King’s relationship with Africa was growing. He was building this relationship when he was killed. And he had been talking with Malcolm (X) about building an economic relationship between Africa and African-Americans. So there is a lot of unfinished business and economics has to be part of that answer. Today, we are still in the system and the church has not stepped up. I don’t think the church understands as far as I am concerned, what it should be doing.

“With all of these mega churches, we have an opportunity to influence politics, to determine economies and to impact education. It’s an opportunity to teach and mass mobilize,” she closed.

Regarding one of the many debates surrounding the nation in 2013, Amb. Young weighed in on gun control. “When people showed up at his (Dr. King) home with guns after his house had been bombed, he said, ‘No, take your guns home. We have got to find a better way to deal with this problem.’ In fact, he used the Biblical term ‘a more excellent way.’ ” If Dr. King were alive today, he would commend President Obama for his efforts to tighten federal gun laws, said Mr. Young.

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