Monday, January 20, 2014

The Real Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

By HamdenRice from the Daily Kos on August 29, 2011

We don't often reprint an entire article from another source, but this article, recommended by Martin F. Jones, reminds us of what we may have forgotten-- or may have never known at all.

This will be a very short diary.  It will not contain any links or any scholarly references.  It is about a very narrow topic, from a very personal, subjective perspective.

The topic at hand is what Martin Luther King actually did, what it was that he actually accomplished.

The reason I'm posting this is because there were dueling diaries over the weekend about Dr. King's legacy, and there is a diary up now (not on the rec list but on the recent list) entitled, "Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Dream Not Yet Realized."  I'm sure the diarist means well as did the others.  But what most people who reference Dr. King seem not to know is how Dr. King actually changed the subjective experience of life in the United States for African Americans.  And yeah, I said for African Americans, not for Americans, because his main impact was his effect on the lives of African Americans, not on Americans in general.  His main impact was not to make white people nicer or fairer.  That's why some of us who are African Americans get a bit possessive about his legacy.  Dr. Martin Luther King's legacy, despite what our civil religion tells us, is not color blind.

I remember that many years ago, when I was a smart ass home from first year of college, I was standing in the kitchen arguing with my father.  My head was full of newly discovered political ideologies and black nationalism, and I had just read the Autobiography of Malcolm X, probably for the second time.

A bit of context.  My father was from a background, which if we were talking about Europe or Latin America, we would call, "peasant" origin, although he had risen solidly into the working-middle class.  He was from rural Virginia and his parents had been tobacco farmers.  I spent two weeks or so every summer on the farm of my grandmother and step grandfather.  They had no running water, no gas, a wood burning stove, no bathtubs or toilets but an outhouse, pot belly stoves for heat in the winter, a giant wood pile, a smoke house where hams and bacon hung, chickens, pigs, semi wild housecats that lived outdoors, no tractor or car, but an old plow horse and plows and other horse drawn implements, and electricity only after I was about 8 years old.  The area did not have high schools for blacks and my father went as far as the seventh grade in a one room schoolhouse.  All four of his grandparents, whom he had known as a child, had been born slaves.  It was mainly because of World War II and urbanization that my father left that life.
They lived in a valley or hollow or "holler" in which all the landowners and tenants were black.  In the morning if you wanted to talk to cousin Taft, you would walk down to behind the outhouse and yell across the valley, "Heeeyyyy Taaaaft," and you could see him far, far in the distance, come out of his cabin and yell back.

On the one hand, this was a pleasant situation because they lived in isolation from white people.  On the other hand, they did have to leave the valley to go to town where all the rigid rules of Jim Crow applied.  By the time I was little, my people had been in this country for six generations (going back, according to oral rendering of our genealogy, to Africa Jones and Mama Suki), much more under slavery than under freedom, and all of it under some form of racial terrorism, which had inculcated many humiliating behavior patterns.
Anyway that's background.  I think we were kind of typical as African Americans in the pre Civil Rights era went.

So anyway, I was having this argument with my father about Martin Luther King and how his message was too conservative compared to Malcolm X's message.  My father got really angry at me.  It wasn't that he disliked Malcolm X, but his point was that Malcolm X hadn't accomplished anything as Dr. King had.
I was kind of sarcastic and asked something like, so what did Martin Luther King accomplish other than giving his "I have a dream speech."

Before I tell you what my father told me, I want to digress.  Because at this point in our amnesiac national existence, my question pretty much reflects the national civic religion view of what Dr. King accomplished.  He gave this great speech.  Or some people say, "he marched."  I was so angry at Mrs. Clinton during the primaries when she said that Dr. King marched, but it was LBJ who delivered the Civil Rights Act.
At this point, I would like to remind everyone exactly what Martin Luther King did, and it wasn't that he "marched" or gave a great speech.

My father told me with a sort of cold fury, "Dr. King ended the terror of living in the south."

Please let this sink in and and take my word and the word of my late father on this.  If you are a white person who has always lived in the U.S. and never under a brutal dictatorship, you probably don't know what my father was talking about.

But this is what the great Dr. Martin Luther King accomplished.  Not that he marched, nor that he gave speeches.

He ended the terror of living as a black person, especially in the south.

I'm guessing that most of you, especially those having come fresh from seeing "The Help," may not understand what this was all about.  But living in the south (and in parts of the mid west and in many ghettos of the north) was living under terrorism.

It wasn't that black people had to use a separate drinking fountain or couldn't sit at lunch counters, or had to sit in the back of the bus.

You really must disabuse yourself of this idea.  Lunch counters and buses were crucial symbolic planes of struggle that the civil rights movement decided to use to dramatize the issue, but the main suffering in the south did not come from our inability to drink from the same fountain, ride in the front of the bus or eat lunch at Woolworth's.

It was that white people, mostly white men, occasionally went berserk, and grabbed random black people, usually men, and lynched them.  You all know about lynching.  But you may forget or not know that white people also randomly beat black people, and the black people could not fight back, for fear of even worse punishment.

This constant low level dread of atavistic violence is what kept the system running.  It made life miserable, stressful and terrifying for black people.

White people also occasionally tried black people, especially black men, for crimes for which they could not conceivably be guilty.  With the willing participation of white women, they often accused black men of "assault," which could be anything from rape to not taking off one's hat, to "reckless eyeballing."

This is going to sound awful and perhaps a stain on my late father's memory, but when I was little, before the civil rights movement, my father taught me many, many humiliating practices in order to prevent the random, terroristic, berserk behavior of white people.  The one I remember most is that when walking down the street in New York City side by side, hand in hand with my hero-father, if a white woman approached on the same sidewalk, I was to take off my hat and walk behind my father, because he had been taught in the south that black males for some reason were supposed to walk single file in the presence of any white lady.
This was just one of many humiliating practices we were taught to prevent white people from going berserk.
I remember a huge family reunion one August with my aunts and uncles and cousins gathered around my grandparent's vast breakfast table laden with food from the farm, and the state troopers drove up to the house with a car full of rifles and shotguns, and everyone went kind of weirdly blank.  They put on the masks that black people used back then to not provoke white berserkness.  My strong, valiant, self educated, articulate uncles, whom I adored, became shuffling, Step-N-Fetchits to avoid provoking the white men.  Fortunately the troopers were only looking for an escaped convict.  Afterward, the women, my aunts, were furious at the humiliating performance of the men, and said so, something that even a child could understand.
This is the climate of fear that Dr. King ended.

If you didn't get taught such things, let alone experience them, I caution you against invoking the memory of Dr. King as though he belongs exclusively to you and not primarily to African Americans.
The question is, how did Dr. King do this -- and of course, he didn't do it alone.

(Of all the other civil rights leaders who helped Dr. King end this reign of terror, I think the most under appreciated is James Farmer, who founded the Congress of Racial Equality and was a leader of non-violent resistance, and taught the practices of non violent resistance.)

So what did they do?

They told us: -- whatever you are most afraid of doing vis a vis white people, go do it.  Go ahead down to city hall and try to register to vote, even if they say no, even if they take your name down.

Go ahead sit at that lunch counter.  Sue the local school board.  All things that most black people would have said back then, without exaggeration, were stark raving insane and would get you killed.

If we do it all together, we'll be OK.

They made black people experience the worst of the worst, collectively, that white people could dish out, and discover that it wasn't that bad.  They taught black people how to take a beating -- from the southern cops, from police dogs, from fire department hoses.  They actually coached young people how to crouch, cover their heads with their arms and take the beating.  They taught people how to go to jail, which terrified most decent people.

And you know what?  The worst of the worst, wasn't that bad.

Once people had been beaten, had dogs sicked on them, had fire hoses sprayed on them, and been thrown in jail, you know what happened?

These magnificent young black people began singing freedom songs in jail.

That, my friends, is what ended the terrorism of the south.  Confronting your worst fears, living through it, and breaking out in a deep throated freedom song.  The jailers knew they had lost when they beat the crap out of these young Negroes and the jailed, beaten young people began to sing joyously, first in one town then in another.  This is what the writer, James Baldwin, captured like no other writer of the era.

Please let this sink in.  It wasn't marches or speeches.  It was taking a severe beating, surviving and realizing that our fears were mostly illusory and that we were free.

So yes, Dr. King had many other goals, many other more transcendent, non-racial, policy goals, goals that apply to white people too, like ending poverty, reducing the war like aspects of our foreign policy, promoting the New Deal goal of universal employment, and so on.  But his main accomplishment was ending 200 years of racial terrorism, by getting black people to confront their fears.  So please don't tell me that Martin Luther King's dream has not been achieved, unless you knew what racial terrorism was like back then and can make a convincing case you still feel it today.  If you did not go through that transition, you're not qualified to say that the dream was not accomplished.

That is what Dr. King did -- not march, not give good speeches.  He crisscrossed the south organizing people, helping them not be afraid, and encouraging them, like Gandhi did in India, to take the beating that they had been trying to avoid all their lives.

Once the beating was over, we were free.

It wasn't the Civil Rights Act, or the Voting Rights Act or the Fair Housing Act that freed us.  It was taking the beating and thereafter not being afraid.  So, sorry Mrs. Clinton, as much as I admire you, you were wrong on this one.  Our people freed ourselves and those Acts, as important as they were, were only white people officially recognizing what we had done. Print Friendly and PDF

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Activists (our own Ellen!) Occupy National Museum of American History — Install Torture Exhibit to Mark Guantánamo Anniversary

  Vowing to “Make Guantanamo History,” human rights advocates from around the country marked the beginning of the thirteenth year of torture and indefinite detention at the prison camp with a dramatic protest at the National Museum of American History. 150 activists occupied the atrium of the crowded museum for more than two hours, speaking out against torture and calling for Guantanamo to close.

The activists hung banners, stood in stress positions in hoods and jumpsuits, spoke to the tourists, and with their bodies and voices revised the museum’s “Price of Freedom” exhibit to include twelve years of torture and indefinite detention as the bitter cost of the United States’ misguided pursuit of “national security.”
In a booming chorus, members of Witness Against Torture and other groups read from a statement that closed with the lines: “to honor freedom and justice and the struggles of Americans for these things, we must end torture, close the prison and make Guantanamo history.”
Chantal deAlcuaz, a Witness Against Torture activist from Anchorage, Alaska spent the two hours in an orange jumpsuit and black hood. She reflected that: “We came here today because we want to see Guantanamo relegated to a museum — to be shuttered and condemned, but also understood as an example of where fear, hatred and violence can take us.”
The museum protest followed a robust and spirited rally at the White House that featured speeches from grassroots activists, Guantanamo attorneys and representatives of national human rights organizations.
“It was so great to see the spirit of hope at the White House, in the streets of DC and at the museum,” said Chris Knestrick, a divinity student form Chicago. “We definitely moved closer to our goal of closing Guantanamo today. And the work will continue!!”
Since Monday, January 6, Witness Against Torture activists from throughout the country have gathered in Washington, D.C. to engage in street theater, demonstrations, fasting and direct action to demand that Guantanamo be closed immediately.  There were also anti-Guantanamo protests and vigils throughout the country, including in Los Angeles, CA, Boston MA, Chicago IL, Santa Monica, CA Erie, PA, and Cleveland, OH.
Witness Against Torture is a grassroots movement that came into being in December 2005 when 24 activists walked to Guantanamo to visit the prisoners and condemn torture policies. Since then, it has engaged in public education, community outreach, and non-violent direct action. January 2014 is the eighth year the group has gathered annually in Washington, DC to call for justice and accountability. To learn more, visit

Saturday, January 11, 2014: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Jeremy Varon, 732-979-3119, jvaron@
Frida Berrigan, 860-389-8566, frida.

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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Call your elected officials and ask them to request an investment of at least $87.5 million in the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP) as well as a modest reform to the Emergency Assistance (EA) shelter safety net in the Governor’s FY 15 Budget Proposal. 

The final FY 14 budget funded MRVP at $57.5 million, a $15.5 million increase from FY13, providing vouchers to an additional 1,000 families across the Commonwealth. This was a much needed investment and yet if we are to address the growing family homelessness crisis in the state in a meaningful way, we must take sustained and significant steps to expand investment in MRVP and other forms of permanent, affordable housing for our lowest income residents.   

Family homelessness in Massachusetts is at an all-time high, with over 4,000 families currently living in shelter and many more in unsafe or unstable double-up situations. The single most significant cause of family homelessness is a lack of affordable housing. 

We have witnessed first-hand the devastating human and economic consequences of the current family homelessness crisis. It is well-established fact that homeless children, as compared to their housed peers, have:
-       higher rates of acute and chronic illness,
-       more nutritional deficiencies like iron deficiency anemia,
-       greater rates of hunger,
-       higher rates of developmental delays and
-       more difficulty focusing in school, if they make it to school at all, resulting in risks of repeating years in school.

Worse, placing families in motels and shelters costs more – approximately $3000 per month –as compared with funding an MRVP voucher which costs just $1028 per family per month. And long term, the costs of family homelessness – in health care, education, public benefits, and to society at large – are substantial. While we must continue to fully fund EA shelter, since it is such a critical safety net while so many families are homeless and at risk of homelessness, we must also substantially increase our investment in permanent, affordable housing if the need for shelter is to decrease.   

We are asking for a proposed investment of at minimum $87.5 million in the MRVP line item in the Governor’s FY15 Budget Proposal. This would be a $30 million increase over the FY14 investment, and would create between 2,000 and 3,000 additional vouchers. Permanent, affordable housing is the centerpiece to child health and a stable education and has a proven record in contributing to substantial long term cost savings.

 At the same time, we know that families experiencing homelessness need access to emergency shelter until they are able to secure permanent housing and we are very concerned that many families cannot now qualify for EA unless and until they have had no choice but to stay in a place not meant for human habitation.
 The lack of this protection is putting a strain on our medical, educational and social systems. Families in dire straits sometimes have to resort to staying in the emergency room when they’ve been denied shelter and have no other housing options, thereby driving up medical costs. The educators among us have noticed students out of school as their families bounce around from place to place, and have had to take time away from teaching to address the homelessness crises of our students. 

We are asking you our elected officials to request that the Governor's proposal slightly expand eligibility for EA shelter to families who provide credible information that they are within 24 hours of having to stay in a place not meant for human habitation with their children. This should increase cost very little, if anything because these families are qualifying for shelter now but only after having had to go through the trauma of staying in places not meant for human habitation. 

 We ask you to  urge the administration to take this step to ensure that children are kept safe and off the streets while simultaneously setting a strong precedent toward ending family homelessness by proposing to fund the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program at $87.
5 million or higher.
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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Notes on pandhandling from a friend

I have never had to survive from panhandling before, but I have discovered many things about people while doing it. 

First, it's the poor who help the poor. That surprised me. It's not the brand new Cadillac with a well dressed couple. It's the older model mini van with 3 kids in the back. 

Begging makes folks uncomfortable. Eye contact is intensely avoided. Smiles are hard to get. Children get confused, but always smile. 

People spit on panhandlers.  I'm not sure I understand that. On the other hand, folks are incredibly kind. I had a young woman give me half of her ham sandwich. I had another couple who saw me and then went to D & D and brought me back a hot coffee and a donut. It was about 10 degrees and windy that day. I had a Youngman who stopped and prayed for me and then gave me his change. This one woman who I noticed each day walking by me stopped one day and told me she had been watching me. She had noticed that very few folks stopped to help. We talked for 10 minuets and then she gave me $20.

I read something the other day that helps me when I am at my lowest, when no one stops for an hour or so:  "It is a beggar's pride that he is not a thief."
I have lived the life of a thief. It hurt a lot of folks. It darkens the soul. It becomes impossible to look at others because of shame.
It is very hard for me to ask for money, but what I have been doing to get money does not hurt folks. I sincerely wear a face of gratitude. I take no more than I need. I share what I can.
There is a lot to this story. I have just begun to write about it. It is another world. The comradely feeling amongst others doing what I do, is strong.
Ill keep you posted as I trudge this road for now.
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