I have to report regretfully that still, 93 years after your birth, as you commented in 1968, “The American people are infected with racism”.
In the time since 1968, nearly a third of your dear Brothers and Sisters are incarcerated. The effort that you spent your last days championing — the Poor People’s Campaign — was smashed by the very forces that ended your life. The Native peoples of this land that you found common cause with during the Poor People’s Campaign still demand a return of stolen land, demand justice, and demand autonomy. The COINTELPRO program that hounded you relentlessly has morphed into the targeted surveillance of “Black identity extremists” and anyone else with the moral certitude to follow your example.
In the time since your untimely ascent, millions more have perished in wars waged in the name of american empire. The conflict in Vietnam dragged on years after your death, and the forces of imperialism found new targets in South America, Central America, the Caribbean, laid waste to hundreds of thousands of lives in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Pakistan — thousands murdered at the behest of the first Black president. Many of the Brown people that you sought to build coalition with are still today housed in deplorable detention facilities. The Muslim community is still recovering from a decade of backlash and repression.
Your calls for basic income, full employment, affordable housing, for billions to be allocated to poverty alleviation, to justice are still being laughed at by those in power. There is always an excuse. In fact, they repeat the same tired excuses trotted out by Kennedy, Johnson, and a parade of senators, representatives, bureaucrats, and academics. But some seeds dear Brother, are protected by the Almighty. The seeds of liberation you planted keep rising in the most toxic of soils.
I have to tell you dear brother that they are hard at work dismantling the voting rights act that you and so many others brought into being with shear hope and prayer. And blood. The very foundation of what little democracy remains is itself hanging by a thread. But you knew that backlash follows every victory.
I want to tell you that there is hope boundless in the brilliance of the struggle being taken up by the youth, by countless people who spend hours trying to help their neighbor — who struggle every day to radicalize, to educate, to feed, comfort, heal and uplift. I want to tell you about the young folk in Chicago and New York who boycotted school to protest the county’s disregard for life in the face of an unimaginable pandemic. Please elevate them in your prayers on that side of the veil. I know it warms your soul to connect those youth back to the young people in Birmingham, Selma, and Charlotte.
Black folk have in many ways have made important improvements in material condition. The ability for more people to live a better life, to experience something beyond survival. There are so many of us still just barely holding on. Many of the coalitions across race, gender, class, nationality are still holding on, and fighting on. I hope in those realms you inhabit it is clear that the many sacrifices, the many torments you endured were not all in vain.
I keep your words in mind and heart dear brother as I try to grasp the world that is unfolding.
I am not sad that black Americans are rebelling; this was not only inevitable but eminently desirable. Without this magnificent ferment among Negroes, the old evasions and procrastinations would have continued indefinitely. Black men have slammed the door shut on a past of deadening passivity. Except for the Reconstruction years, they have never in their long history on American soil struggled with such creativity and courage for their freedom. These are our bright years of emergence; though they are painful ones, they cannot be avoided.Martin Luther King, Testament of Hope
I remember the words you gave to the striking sanitation workers of Memphis, perhaps hours before your ascent:
Now the other thing is that nothing is gained without pressure. Don’t let anybody tell you to go back on the job and paternalistically say, “Now you are my men and I’m going to do the right thing for you. Just come on back on the job.” Don’t go back on the job until the demands are met. Never forget that freedom is not something that is voluntarily given by the oppressor. It is something that must be demanded by the oppressed. Freedom is not some lavish dish that the power structure and the white forces in policy-making positions will voluntarily hand out on a silver platter while the Negro merely furnishes the appetite. If we are going to get equality, if we are going to get adequate wages, we are going to have to struggle for itMartin Luther King, Jr.
I thank you for your unremitting courage, for setting an example of brilliance, and love.
I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.Martin Luther King, Jr. Transcript of sermon delivered February 4, 1968
I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. (Amen)
I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. (Yes)
And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. (Yes) I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. (Lord)
I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity
Yes, dear Brother, yes.