In 1905, W.E. B. Dubois was a Professor at Atlanta University and one of the great leaders of the Negro resistance movement. In June of 1905, Dubois called for a movement, later called the Niagara Movement, which led to the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In his call for the creation of the NAACP and the first meeting of the group issued on Lincoln’s birthday, in 1909, Dubois described the social climate of America of the time and the world that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born into.
Dubois said that if Mr. Lincoln could revisit this country in the flesh he would be disheartened and discouraged. He cited the fact that the state of Georgia had disenfranchised Negro Americans, as of January 1, 1901, as had all southern states had done. He cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to rule on the disenfranchisement of the millions of Black citizens and openly enforced laws that allowed white men to vote, while disallowing Black men the same right.
Dubois pointed out that the same court agreed with state principles that may “make it a crime for white and colored persons to frequent the same marketplace at the same time, or appear in an assemblage of citizens convened to consider questions of a public or political nature in which all citizens, without regard to race, are equally interested.”
Lincoln would find a country where, in some states, justice was enforced, if at all, by judges elected by one segment of the community to enforce the laws of liberty and lives of another segment of the community. He would see an America where Black men who had paid for first class accommodations, had the best accommodations. This state of affairs disturbed Lincoln because these laws were being enforced against Black men who had fought for and, in some cases, gave their lives in the service of their country.
Today, in 2013, if Dr. King could revisit America he would see a world where he would see the paradox that shows that many of his goals of equality were being realized. At the same time, he could observe that in some areas, Black Americans seem to have become their own worst enemy. Dr. King would see an America where Black gangs kill more Black American youth than state and local police could ever dream of. In Chicago alone, in 2012, more than 500 young Blacks died from Black gang violence. He would observe that the self hatred had become so strong that the 506th death had occurred on the steps of a Chicago church during the funeral services of number 505. Dr. King could see an America where many younger Blacks have taken their eyes off the prize of Black unity and allowed guns and self hatred to rule our community.
King could observe the need for young warriors to continue to fight for the vote, more education, for affordable student loans, and to fight the movement to repeal affordable health care. Dr. King may not be surprised that the enemies to Black progress from the southern states are still at work trying to put the genie of progress back into the proverbial bottle. What he may be surprised at is the demise of family unity where grandma’s hands were the ruling force in the family and papa’s hands worked hard to provide for his family’ future. Dr. King could reflect on the fact that he died at the hands of an assassin who was trying to stop his actions, struggling for Black hands to gain equal pay for the work they did as garbage workers. He would have reason to cry that for every hand of a young Blacks male that was wrapped around books and computers, there were two wrapped around prison bars and gun triggers. Dr. King would be concerned about the lack of developing programs redirecting young Black hands around tools of education and empowerment and wrapping his arms around his family to protect them from a life of poverty.
Sadly, Dr. King could observe that even many of our churches have lost their mission and created a crisis in Black religious thinking. They have substituted a selfish prosperity ministry for a ministry of Black liberation born out of the simple scripture that says God is Love. He would be appalled to see that many pastors have raped the church treasuries for their own gain. Love, not selfish prosperity, should be the guiding force for progress. If we follow the path of love, rather than hate and act on that, prosperity will follow. Those who truly believe in God believe this.
After all has been said and done, wasn’t that Dr King’s central message? Acting in unity out of love could conquer more than violence and hatred. Whether he was writing from the Birmingham Jail to white ministers or speaking from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, he was spreading the message that when people act out of love, we all prosper.
I say to each of us, “Choose you this day, on the celebration of Dr. King’s Birthday, whether you will act and whether it will be action out of love or hatred.”