Habari Gani: A Focus on Recent Events

1966 Black Power March

By Makheru Bradley

January 17, 2022 10:10AM
Makheru Bradley

We titled this series Habari Gani, a Kiswahili term we use during Kwanzaa, translated as “What’s New”, or “What is the News?” Our intent is to cover recent events that impact Afrikan people.

The Dr. King we need in 2022
As millions of Americans celebrate the 36th Martin Luther King, Jr. federal holiday, the United States is facing yet another moral crisis. The socio-political conditions in this country are in some ways more widely contentious than they were in the turbulent final years of Dr. King’s life. During those final years, 1965-1968, America was wracked with racial violence and urban rebellions driven by oppressive conditions, poverty, an antiwar movement, political repression and assassinations of those fighting the powers that be. The current conditions in the US, exacerbated by ebb and flow of the COVID pandemic, are a powder keg that can either explode into a civil war or something similar to Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

The most obvious missing element in 2022 are the strong Black voices of moral vision and action, which were represented by Dr. King, Malcolm X, and others such as Kwame Ture, and the antiwar white left. While we will once again be inundated with the “Dream Speech,” played by opportunists seeking Black votes in 2022, the critical issues and views Dr. King articulated during his final three years will be largely ignored, as usual.
The Dream and Nightmare
By 1967, an increasingly unpopular Dr. King, facing obstacles from former allies, said in an interview with NBC, “I must confess that dream that I had that day [at the March on Washington] has at certain points turned into a nightmare.”

“We were the dreamers of a dream that dark yesterdays of man’s inhumanity to man would soon be transformed into bright tomorrows of justice. Now it is hard to escape, the disillusionment and betrayal. Our hopes have been blasted and our dreams have been shattered…

The poor, black and white, are still perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. What happens to a dream deferred? It leads to bewildering frustration and corroding bitterness.

In all the speaking I have done in the United States before varied audiences, including some hostile whites, the only time I have ever been booed was one night in our regular weekly mass meetings by some angry young men of our (Chicago 1966) movement… For twelve years, I and others like me, have held out radiant promises of progress. I had preached to them about my dream. I had lectured to them about, the not to distant day when they would have freedom, all here, now. I had urged them to have faith in America and in white society. Their hopes had soared. They were now booing me because they felt that we were unable to deliver on our promises. They were booing because we had urged them to have faith in people who had too often proved to be unfaithful. They were now hostile because they were watching the dream that they had so readily accepted, turn into a frustrating nightmare.”

The Other America and the Evil Triplets
In speeches titled, “The Other America,” and “The Three Evils of Society,” Dr. King explained his concerns and solutions:

“We must see that the struggle today is much more difficult. It's more difficult today because we are struggling now for genuine equality. It's much easier to integrate a lunch counter than it is to guarantee a livable income and a good solid job. It's much easier to guarantee the right to vote than it is to guarantee the right to live in sanitary, decent housing conditions.

The gains in the first period, or the first era of struggle, were obtained from the power structure at bargain rates; it didn’t cost the nation anything to integrate lunch counters. It didn’t cost the nation anything to integrate hotels and motels. It didn’t cost the nation a penny to guarantee the right to vote. Now we are in a period where it will cost the nation billions of dollars to get rid of poverty, to get rid of slums… The allies who were with us in Selma will not all stay with us during this period. We’ve got to understand what is happening. They often call this the white backlash…

In 1863 the Negro was granted freedom from physical slavery through the Emancipation Proclamation. But he was not given land to make that freedom meaningful. At the same time, our government was giving away millions of acres of land in the Midwest and the West, which meant that the nation was willing to undergird its white peasants from Europe with an economic floor, while refusing to do it for its black peasants from Africa who were held in slavery two hundred and forty four years… In 1875 the nation passed a civil rights bill, and refused to enforce it. In 1964, the nation passed a weaker civil rights bill and even to this day has failed to enforce it in all of its dimensions.

Now let us be sure that we will have to keep the pressure alive. We’ve never made any gain in civil rights without constant, persistent, legal and non-violent pressure. Don’t let anybody make you feel that the problem will work itself out …”

Racism/White Supremacy: “I suspect that we are now experiencing the coming to the surface of a triple prong sickness that has been lurking within our body politic from its very beginning. That is the sickness of racism, excessive materialism and militarism.

Racism can well be that corrosive evil that will bring down the curtain on western civilization. The decline and fall of these civilizations, according to Toynbee, was not caused by external invasion but by internal decay. They failed to respond creatively to the challenges impingent upon them.

If America does not respond creatively to the challenge to banish racism, some future historian will have to say, that a great civilization died because it lacked the soul and commitment to make justice a reality for all men.

In the final analysis, racism is evil because its ultimate logic is genocide.”

Materialism/Poverty: “We have diluted ourselves into believing the myth that Capitalism grew and prospered out of the protestant ethic of hard work and sacrifice. The fact is that Capitalism was built on the exploitation and suffering of black slaves and continues to thrive on the exploitation of the poor – both black and white, both here and abroad. If Negroes and poor whites do not participate in the free flow of wealth within our economy, they will forever be poor, giving their energies, their talents and their limited funds to the consumer market but reaping few benefits and services in return. The way to end poverty is to end the exploitation of the poor, ensure them a fair share of the government services and the nation’s resources.”

Militarism: “A nation that continues year after year, to spend more money on military defense then on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death. (Note: In December President Biden signed the largest Defense bill in US history—$770 billion). The inexorable decay of our urban centers has flared into terrifying domestic conflict as the pursuit of foreign war absorbs our wealth and energy. Squalor and poverty scar our cities as our military might destroy cities in a far-off land to support oligarchy, to intervene in domestic conflict. We are arrogant in professing to be concerned about the freedom of foreign nations while not setting our own house in order.”
A Revolution of Values
“When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, economic exploitation and militarism are incapable of being conquered. A civilization can flounder as readily in the face of moral bankruptcy as it can through financial bankruptcy.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. We are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will only be an initial act. One day the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be beaten and robbed as they make their journey through life. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar, it understands that an edifice which produces beggars, needs restructuring.

A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth, with righteous indignation it will look at thousands of working people displaced from their jobs, with reduced incomes as a result of automation while the profits of the employers remain intact and say, this is not just.

Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world, declaring eternal opposition to poverty, racism and militarism. With this powerful commitment, we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores and thereby speed the day when every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill shall be made low and the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places plain.”

For more from the author, follow his blog Makheru Speaks.

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