February 21, 2008 — Vol. 43, No. 28
Send this page to a friend!


40 years later: The legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following remarks are excerpted from Rev. Jackson’s speech on Feb. 18, 2008 at St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church in Cambridge.

Genesis 37:19-20
They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him … and we shall see what will become of his dreams.”

… Dreamers often march to a different beat. Dreamers often are change agents – the politician with a new vision and capacity to connect. These dreamers are not asleep; they dream with their eyes open.

One of them was Bishop Richard Allen. The founder of the A.M.E. Church was protesting and praying in the balcony of the white Christian church against the lethal poison of a race-laced religion. A poison that was so strong it distorted the meaning of a liberating bible and made it a tool of oppression … proclaiming that God condoned slavery and Africans were the cursed descendants of Ham.

The poison invaded and distorted the thought process of academia and social sciences. It upheld, and was the foundation, of the American economy. Upon this premise banks, insurance companies, universities were founded. The Constitution codified the toxicity by referencing African descendants, the source of U.S. trade and wealth, as three-fifths of a human being.

The burden of this poison stunted America’s growth, bankrupted America’s moral authority and became its source of shame, and it caused a civil war.

This year, America and the world reflect on the 40 years since the brutal assassination of another dreamer — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In so many ways, it is like the way Christians divide history: B.C. (before Christ) and A.D. (after his death, or Anno Domini, the year of the Lord). Today, we see how life has changed — life before King, and after King. He had a tremendous impact on American history, and remains one of the most recognized and respected names on earth.

Forty years later, we are challenged today to address the unfinished business of civil rights — which is civil equality.

Our goal was never just freedom. Freedom was the necessary prerequisite to get to equality.
Equal opportunity will require investment to heal the wounds, to close the gap, to mend the breach.

Freedom, hard work and effort cannot compete easily with inheritance, access and relationships.

Dr. King argued that silence about injustice is betrayal. “I was for nonviolent resolution to conflict at home,” Dr. King once said. “In the face of the conflict in Vietnam I will not flinch from my core beliefs, and I will be heard.” For that conviction he was loved by the oppressed; they received him gladly. And he was hated by the oppressors; they killed him — a martyr at age 39.

The government, led by liberal Democrats, had turned against Dr. King. Liberal blacks turned away from him, and retreated. Conservatives never turned to him; the taunted him, saying he was “over the hill,” and needed to step aside.

Today, the dream of one America is undercut by tax cuts for the wealthy, debt to China, bailout by foreign banks, war in Iraq, and home foreclosures driving recession.
Forty years later, we have the right to vote; but too many are unregistered. Our registering must offset the nullification strategies of elections in 2000 and 2004.

Forty years later, female student-athletes at Rutgers, referred to as hos. There are no black hosts of major TV shows. Imus alone had more air time than all the blacks combined — 750 hours of TV a year, and 1,040 hours of radio.

Forty years later, seven out of 10 black males do not finish high school; they face a school-to-jail pipeline, not a school-to-college plan. Expulsion rates discrepancy: blacks are five to six times more likely to be expelled than whites, for the same infraction. “Zero tolerance” is the merciless justification.

Forty years later, 40 percent of subprime loans went to blacks and browns. Half of them were eligible for prime loans. Unregulated banks, without transparency of deals therefore unprotected homeowners and un-enforced civil rights law. Un-enforced fair lending and anti-fraud laws is driving the recession. The water that’s sinking the economic ship is coming in from the bottom.

While the nation and the world is watching, make your vote and your faith the substance of change and justice.

Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of the unseen.

In his name, stand with the working and uninsured poor.

In his name, demand equal and adequate funding for health care and education.

In his name, expect athletes to graduate.

In his name, eradicate fear and violence in schools.

In his name, revive the ban on semi-automatic weapons.

In his name, stop predatory lenders and bank conspiracies to fleece the poor. Stop foreclosing and repossessing homes.

In his name, stop jobs and investments going out, and drugs and guns coming in. Demand an urban policy.

Dr. King never stopped getting up, despite the cloudy days, the stabbings, the lies the threats and the jailings.

Champions don’t stay down. The ground is no place for champions.

Back to Top