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‘The relatedness of facts’

As we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we can reflect, as we have done many times at the Michigan Citizen, on his legacy and work to eliminate war, poverty, expand civil rights and ensure economic equality. Many will celebrate the holiday by gathering to consider the meaning of his life. Undoubtedly Gov. Rick Snyder, public officials, corporate leaders, among others will be clutching lecterns calling on the legacy of Dr. King. They will look to the convenient concepts — equality — without considering the deeper work and radical underpinnings of Dr. King’s life’s work. Dr. King fought for striking sanitation workers in Memphis and a guaranteed annual income for all Americans.

As we gather at these events, consider the state of African Americans in Michigan, in Detroit. The majority live without local representation or input on their school board. With emergency manager policy, most African Americans in Michigan have lost the right to vote. Civil rights for African Americans have been gutted. Economic justice continues to be elusive as the income gap for all — Black, white, whatever — continues to grow with the rich becoming richer and the middle class all but gone.

Dr. King’s 1962 address to the 53rd Convention of the NAACP:

Segregation has broken down in other areas. When the Montgomery bus boycott started in 1955, most communities in the South had segregated bus systems. Today segregation is almost totally eliminated on city buses in the major urban areas of the South. Since the sit-in movement started in 1960, more than 150 cities of the South have integrated their lunch counters. Since the freedom riders began in 1961, segregation in interstate travel has all but been eliminated. So in a real sense, the system of segregation is on its deathbed, and the only thing uncertain now is how costly the South will make the funeral.

Now this would be a wonderful place for me to end my speech. It would mean that the problem is about solved now and that we can sit comfortabl(y) by the wayside and wait on the coming of the inevitable. But if I stop at this point I will simply be stating a fact and not telling the truth.

You see, a fact is merely the absence of contradiction; truth is the presence of coherence. Truth is the relatedness of facts. It is a fact that we have come a long, long way in race relations, but in order to give the whole truth, we must add the fact that we have a long, long way to go. So if I stop now, I will leave you the victims of a dangerous optimism. If I stop at this point, I will leave you the victims of an illusion wrapped in superficiality. So, I must move on to say that we are far from the promised land of civil rights.

We need not look very far to see this. There are still legislative halls in the South ringing loud with such words as interposition and nullification. … The Negro is still the last hired and the first fired. Even the federal government is a day-to-day partner in this tragic evil. There are still industries receiving billions of dollars in government contracts and yet practice notorious discrimination against Negroes. In the ranks of labor there are still a few unions that bar Negroes from membership and deny them apprenticeship training. Yes, the Negro is still at the bottom of the economic totem pole and there is a great deal to do before this problem is solved.

Celebrating the life of Dr. King is not a practice of “superficiality” but a dedication to the most transgressive Christian principles. Let’s continue his life’s work.


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