Martin Luther King Jr. Day: ‘I hope nothing happens to me,’ King said

19 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

From this Selma house, Martin Luther King made civil rights history.

“I really thought the pajamas were in one of these drawers,” she said in the tone of an aunt concerned that her visiting nephew might go without proper sleepwear. Martin Luther King Jr. was surrounded by heavy security when he arrived in Los Angeles on Feb. 24, 1965, to give a series of speeches pushing for voting rights legislation. European Pressphoto Agency ATLANTA — Faith, community and political leaders are gathered at historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta to celebrate the legacy of the Rev. It was a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement, coming three days after the assassination of Malcolm X in New York and a month before the historic marches in Selma, Ala., where police violence against peaceful protesters would ultimately galvanize the country. “I hope nothing happens to me,” King told a Times reporter upon his arrival in L.A.

Here’s an excerpt from “The Purpose of Education,” a piece he wrote in the February 1947 edition of the Morehouse College student newspaper, the Maroon Tiger: …As I engage in the so-called “bull sessions” around and about the school, I too often find that most college men have a misconception of the purpose of education. But for many Americans, MLK Day arrives this year with a more heightened awareness than usual of racial tensions in policing and the criminal justice system.

Most of the “brethren” think that education should equip them with the proper instruments of exploitation so that they can forever trample over the masses. In major cities like Philadelphia, activists are organizing large-scale protests on Monday connecting the holiday to Eric Garner, the Staten Island resident who died after being put in a police chokehold, and Michael Brown, who was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson. In 1964 and 1965, he planned a march from Selma to Montgomery at the home of his friend Sullivan “Sully” Jackson, a black dentist who lived in Selma with his wife, teacher Richie Jean, and their 5-year-old daughter, Jawana. On the eve of the federal holiday honoring King, the synagogue on Sunday evening held a celebration to remember his visit 50 years ago and the sermon he delivered to a full house on Feb. 26, 1965.

So he called Sully, and a home where the most vocal objections usually came only from a child at bedtime turned into one of the most important protest staging grounds in America. There are more formal sites honoring the late leader — the King Center/ the MLK National Historic Site in Atlanta, or the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tenn. But perhaps none offers a better reminder that the movement King led was made up of real people, in ordinary spaces, unsure of whether the goals they were dreaming of would ever come to pass. Individual states began to enact statewide holidays to honor King in 1973, but it took another decade of lobbying and debate before Congress finally passed a bill to make the day a federal holiday.

The bedroom’s walls are painted in the same turquoise color, the bed covered in the same gold duvet — all preserved impeccably, like nearly everything else in the house. He asked the congregation to help push society forward past “stagnant complacency and deadening pacifity.” “We’ve been in the mountain of racial injustice long enough,” King said. “And now it is time for us to move on to that great and noble realm of justice and brotherhood.” On Sunday, Rose and others honored King with a multicultural musical rendition of his speech at the temple. The moment was captured in a famous Life magazine photograph, and as Jackson now stood in the spot with a copy of the image, the similarities were so uncanny that the only difference between the photo and real life was the absence of King. “He was just sitting there like anyone else would, watching television, even though he was the reason the president was giving the speech,” Jackson said, still marveling at it. She runs a company that sells golf apparel but also spent much of the last three decades ensuring that her parents didn’t change a thing in the Selma home; she has also started a foundation for that purpose. The broad education will, therefore, transmit to one not only the accumulated knowledge of the race but also the accumulated experience of social living.

Her mother died a year ago (Sully died in 2004), and since then, Jackson has been weighing the logistics and finances of — and her appetite for — turning a place of so many private memories into a museum. We squander funds on highways, on the frenetic pursuit of recreation, on the overabundance of overkill armament, but we pauperize education.” In the treatment of poverty nationally, one fact stands out: there are twice as many white poor as Negro poor in the United States. Therefore I will not dwell on the experiences of poverty that derive from racial discrimination, but will discuss the poverty that affects white and Negro alike. Up to recently we have proceeded from a premise that poverty is a consequence of multiple evils: lack of education restricting job opportunities; poor housing which stultified home life and suppressed initiative; fragile family relationships which distorted personality development.

Hence a housing program to transform living conditions, improved educational facilities to furnish tools for better job opportuniti es, and family counseling to create better personal adjustments were designed. It’s a warm memory, but with a twist. “I learned later from my father that whenever Uncle Martin knew he would see me, he would go see my father first.

He just was never thinking about material possessions.” The family comes off as welcoming in the film, which was directed by Ava DuVernay and produced by Oprah Winfrey. I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective — the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income…. Police officers would regularly come to the back door warning of potential Ku Klux Klan activity, and there was a go-to escape plan that involved Jackson hiding under a pile of laundry in her uncle’s hearse. We are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished.

George Wallace, still evinces white-black tension. (The city of 20,000 is now 80% black.) In a tangible reminder of a city’s identity battle, the street named for civil rights attorney J.L. Chestnut was once named for Jefferson Davis; some white locals still refer to it by the Confederate leader’s name. “Treat us fair,” a middle-aged white man said to a reporter in a bar along the Alabama River while, downtown, a group of older black women at a Bible study group made the same request. Local officials have embraced Jackson, even though she no longer lives in Selma, believing she represents the kind of concrete historical link that larger cities come by easily. “There is still a lot of work to do on race relations in Selma, but what people like Jawana do is remind us of how far we’ve come,” said George Evans, the city’s mayor. “Progress is slow, but it’s faster with these reminders.” The rapper Common, who stars as Bevel and who also contributed a song to “Selma,” said that places like Jackson’s home can amplify understanding of the period. “It’s great that Selma is finally getting the recognition, because the people were chosen for a reason,” he said. “They had the fire and desire to move things forward.” Standing in her house’s study, Jackson pointed out a desk where she wrote high-school term papers — the same desk that King wrote some his best-known speeches.

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