Black History Month: A Very Noble Man … Mr. Dabney Montgomery

In today’s environment, it would be easy to focus during Black History Month on the wrongs that have been done throughout our history and continue even today against Black Americans.  Certainly it is important to bring those stories to light, especially these days when some are trying to hide those parts of the nation’s history.  But to limit my posts to only those would be wrong, for there are so many true heroes throughout our history who deserve to be recognized, to be noted.  I first wrote this post on September 6th 2016, three days after the death of Mr. Dabney Montgomery, but last night I read it again and I think Mr. Montgomery deserves another spotlight, another round of applause.  So, without further ado, please allow me to tell you about Mr. Dabney Montgomery …

dabney-montgomery-3


The Tuskegee Airmen was a group of African-American military fighter and bomber pilots, as well as navigators, bombardiers, mechanics, instructors, crew chiefs, nurses, cooks and other support personnel, who fought in World War II. Officially, they formed the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the United States Army Air Forces. Mr. Montgomery was a member of this group, serving as a ground crewman until the end of the war in 1945.

When he returned to his home in Selma, Alabama, after the war, Jim Crow laws and segregation were still the law of the land in the south.  Having just been honourably discharged, Mr. Montgomery attempted to board a train in Atlanta to return home to his family. “Before I could get in, a white officer threw up his hand. ‘You can’t come in this door, boy, you got to go around the back.’ “ After returning home, Mr. Montgomery went to the courthouse in Selma to register to vote in the next election, but was told by a clerk that he would need the signatures of three white men before he would be allowed to register.  His father, Dred, a fireman for Southern Railroad, knew three white men who were willing to sign.  But when Mr. Montgomery returned to the courthouse with the signatures, yet another hurdle had been put in his way … he was told he must own at least $1,000 worth of property.  He did not own property, and thus was denied the right to vote. Obviously not much had changed in the south during his time of service to his country.

Mr. Montgomery attended Livingstone College in North Carolina on the GI Bill and graduated with a degree in religious education in 1949. A man of many interests and talents, Mr. Montgomery soon ended up in Boston, where he studied dance at the Boston Conservatory of Music, and later in New York at the New York City Metropolitan Opera Dance School!  Sadly, an injury soon ended his dance career, and in 1955 he went to work for the City of New York, first as a Social Service Investigator in the Department of Social Services and later for the Housing Authority.

Then one day …

“I was sitting at home in New York City and I saw that attack on people in Selma on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. They gassed them and beat them with sticks — the sheriff, the officials in their uniforms, because they was [sic] marching to the governor’s office to vote.

“And I saw them knocked down, and I saw the gas in the air, and I was sitting here — this is happening in my hometown, Selma! I said, ‘I’m going and get[ting] a taste of that gas.’

“I went to my director and said, ‘I’ve got to go home. … I’m going home to take part in that movement.’ “

dabney-montgomery-2.pngThe date was Sunday, 07 March 1965, and the event Mr. Montgomery saw on television would become known across the nation as “Bloody Sunday”.  The previous year, 1964, the Voter’s Rights Act was passed, but African-Americans were still meeting with resistance when attempting to register to vote, and as a result, only 2% had been able to register.  Dr. Martin Luther King was working with the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to register black voters.  There was much resistance in Selma, and on February 17, protester Jimmy Lee Jackson was fatally shot by an Alabama state trooper.  In response, a protest march from Selma to Montgomery was scheduled for March 7. Six hundred marchers assembled in Selma that Sunday, and led by John Lewis and other SNCC and SCLC activists, planned to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama River en route to Montgomery. Just short of the bridge, they found their way blocked by Alabama State troopers and local police who ordered them to turn around. When the protesters refused, the officers shot teargas and waded into the crowd, beating the nonviolent protesters with billy clubs and ultimately hospitalizing over fifty people.

Mr. Montgomery had been active in the Civil Rights movement before, participating in the 1963 March on Washington, but when he returned to Selma, he jumped on the bandwagon with determination to make things better, to do whatever he could to help bring about an end to racial segregation. Within days of arriving in Selma, Mr. Montgomery connected with Dr. King, and by the beginning of the historic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, on 21 March 1965, Mr. Montgomery had become one of Dr. King’s bodyguards.  The march took four days of walking 12 hours a day, sleeping in fields along the way, protected by U.S. Army troops and Alabama National Guard forces that President Johnson had ordered.

dabney-montgomery-5Eventually, Mr. Montgomery returned to his job in New York City and in 1971 he married the girl of his dreams, Amelia. Mr. Montgomery retired from the New York City Housing Authority in 1988, but he did not rest on his laurels!  Since his retirement, he has worked as a Social Outreach Worker for Project FIND, a non-profit organization assisting older adults on Manhattan’s West Side. Montgomery was also very active with Harlem’s Mother African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the oldest organized black church in New York, and was also active on the Parks Committee and Harlem’s Interfaith Committee of the Tenth Community Board of Manhattan. He also frequently visited schools to talk to the children about his experiences, and according to his wife, he remained active until he became ill, just a few weeks prior to his death.

In 2007, Mr. Montgomery, along with the other Tuskegee Airmen, received the Congressional Gold Medal.  The heels from the shoes he wore during the march from Selma to Montgomery will be on display in the new National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, which is scheduled to open the 24th of this month.

dabney-montgomery-4There is no official record of how many of the Tuskegee Airmen are still alive today.  What is certain is that within another decade, there will likely be none left to tell the story.  With that in mind, a group called The History Makers began recording, preserving and sharing the life stories of thousands of African Americans, from President Barack Obama to the oldest living black cowboy.  You can hear Mr. Montgomery’s story in his own words .  What a noble project!  And what a noble man … my hat is off to Mr. Dabney Montgomery … Rest in Peace, sir, and thank you for your many contributions.

Republican Hypocrisy on MLK Day

I’m a little late posting this, but I found it in yesterday morning’s newsletter from The Root and think it is worth sharing, even late.  I fully agree with Mr. Rawls … Republicans are working to destroy everything that Dr. Martin Luther King fought for and they do not have a right to so much as speak his name.


If You’re A Republican Lawmaker Planning To Post An MLK Quote On Monday, Just Don’t.

Republicans take MLK day off or better yet, tell the truth about his history.

By

Murjani Rawls

When I was a kid, I remember the first time I learned about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr–you know, the Disneyland version. There were slight mentions of protests and arrests–however, my teachers gave the most significant amount of time to King’s “I Have A Dream,” the speech he gave in 1963 at Washington D.C. and his principles of non-violence. We constantly emphasized one quote:

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Then, we jumped right to his assassination in 1968—the end. But we knew everything about the American Revolution, the Boston Tea Party, and how George Washington crossed the Potomac River with his powered wig intact.

It wasn’t until I got older that I learned about the march in Selma, Alabama/”Bloody Sunday,” the Poor People’s Campaign, J. Edgar Hoover ordering surveillance of his activities with the F.B.I., or that his house got bombed in 1956. Much of that research were things to do on my own.

On M.L.K. Day Monday, there will be a lot of Republican lawmakers and congressional representatives posting the same variation of quotes. It’s either from the one I mentioned or from his “Strength To Love” sermon in 1963.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

It will be from the same cast of people actively working against voting rights legislation across the country, acting as though Jan. 6th is no big deal and further diluting what we learn with this “Critical Race Theory” movement. So, I will ask them for this holiday and others:

Just skip it. Take the day off.

Tell your intern to go ahead and delete that scheduled post. Maybe there’s a big WhatsApp chat you are all in, and you pick the quote to post. Put those notifications on silent.

Or better yet, here are a few that you can use:

From his “Letter From Birmingham Jail” in 1963:

“For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

From his “Beyond Vietnam” speech in 1967:

“The world now demands a maturity of America that we may not be able to achieve.”

From his “Where Do We Go From Here” speech in 1967:

“We must see now that the evils of racism, economic exploitation, and militarism are all tied together. And you can’t get rid of one without getting rid of the other.”

From his “The Other America” lecture in 1967:

“It may be true that morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless. It may be true that the law can’t make a man love me, but it can restrain him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important also.”

During Super Bowl LII, Dodge promoted their new Ram Truck in a commercial with some excerpts from King’s “Drum Major Instinct” speech in 1968–completely using them out of context. Even though, in the same address, King spoke to the evils of consumerism.

This is the climate Republicans aim for as they go through history and erase all the bad parts. Because as sunny as the “I Have A Dream” speech is made out to be, it doesn’t show the many beatings, threats, arrests, and prison time that King and many civil rights leaders endured for progress. Many ultimately lost their lives for the rights which are being attacked to this very day.

Truth feels like something you can twist to your likening these days, but history remembers everything. No matter how often you try to ignore it, themes from the past will come back if you don’t address them. The Supreme Court made a ruling in 2013 to strike down parts of the 1965 Civil Rights Act. Ironically, some of the congressional representatives who post the “feel good” MLK quotes were alive when that legislation passed and cheering as it gets broken down.

So, I say this. The facade isn’t worth it. We see right through it. You might be drafting this post as you read this, but as Jay-Z once said on Takeover, “We don’t believe you/you need more people.”

Honouring Dr. Martin Luther King …

Today is Martin Luther King Day, a federal holiday in the United States to honour one of the greatest men who ever lived in this country.  I first wrote this tribute to Dr. King in 2017, and each year I reprise it, with slight changes or minor additions, for I find that it still says exactly what I wish to say.  Given the increase in racism in the United States in recent years, I think the above quote seems more apt today than ever before.  So please, take just a minute to, if nothing else, listen once again to Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  In these troubled times, it is good to be reminded of Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream.  More than ever, I wish we had a few Dr. Martin Luther Kings fighting for equality and justice for all today.


“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that.” 

“That old law about ‘an eye for an eye’ leaves everybody blind. The time is always right to do the right thing.”

mlk-3Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on 15 January 1929.  He would have been 93 years old last Wednesday, had he lived. On this day, we celebrate not only his life, but also his legacy. Martin Luther King Day celebrates not only Dr. King, but the movement he inspired and all those who helped move forward the notion of equal rights for ALL people, all those who worked tirelessly during the civil rights era of the 1960s, as well as those who are continuing the good fight even in this, the year 2022.  Dr. King’s fight lives on, for we have moved further away than before from his dream.

Dr. King, along with President John F. Kennedy, was the most moving speaker I have ever heard.  To this day, I cannot listen to his ‘I Have A Dream’ speech without tears filling my eyes.  If you haven’t heard it for a while, take a few minutes to watch/listen … I promise it will be worth your time.

This post is both a commemoration and a plea for us to carry on the work that was only begun, not yet finished, more than five decades ago.  Today we should remember some of the great heroes of the civil rights movement, those who worked tirelessly, some who gave their lives, that we could all live in peace and harmony someday: Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Nelson Mandela, Nina Simone, Mary McLeod Bethune, Lena Horne, Marva Collins, Rosa Parks, W.E.B. Du Bois, Malcolm X, Roy Innes, Medgar Evers, Stepen Bantu Biko, Booker T. Washington, John Lewis, Percy Julian, Marcus Garvey, Desmond Tutu, E.D. Nixon, James Meredith, and so many more.  I am willing to bet there are some on this list of whom you’ve never heard, or perhaps recognize the name but not the accomplishments. If you’re interested, you can find brief biographies of each of these and more at Biography.com .

Yet, while we celebrate the achievements of Dr. King and the others, there is still much to be done. Just look around you, read the news each day. Think about these statistics:

  • More than one in five black families live in households that are food insecure, compared to one in ten white families
  • Almost four in ten black children live in a household in poverty, nearly twice the rate of other racial groups
  • Among prime-age adults (ages 25 to 54), about one in five black men are not in the labor force, nearly twice the rate of other racial groups
  • Although blacks and whites use marijuana at approximately the same rate, blacks are over 3 and a half times more likely to get arrested for marijuana possession
  • For every dollar earned by a white worker, a black worker only makes 74 cents
  • Black families are twice as likely as whites to live in substandard housing conditions
  • Black college graduates now have twice the amount of debt as white college graduates
  • The likelihood of a black woman born in 2001 being imprisoned over the course of her lifetime is one in 18, compared to 1 in 111 for a white woman
  • Similarly, the likelihood of a black man being imprisoned is 1 in 3, compared to 1 in 17 for a white man
  • Of black children born into the bottom 20 percent of the income distribution, about half of them will still be there as adults, compared to less than one-quarter of white children

Data courtesy of the Brookings Institute – for charts and supporting details of above date, please click on link. 

And of course the above data does not even touch upon the recent spate of hate crimes, racial profiling, and police shootings against African-Americans.  There is still much of Dr. King’s work to be accomplished. But who is left to do this work?  Most of the leaders of yore are long since gone. There are still noble and courageous people out there carrying on the programs and works of Dr. King and the others, but their voices are perhaps not as loud, and there are none so charismatic as the late Dr. King.

In the current environment of racial divisiveness, we need more than ever to carry on what Dr. King only started. Instead, the past several years have found our nation backtracking on civil and human rights in a number of areas, ranging from discriminatory travel bans against Muslims to turning a federal blind eye to intentionally racially discriminatory state voter-suppression schemes, to opposing protections for transgender people, to parents demanding a re-write of our history to salve their own consciences.  I think Dr. King would be appalled if he returned to visit today.

In a speech on April 12th, 1850, then-Senator and future President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis said:

“This Government was not founded by negroes nor for negroes, but by white men for white men.” [1]

That was wrong then, it is wrong today, and it will always be wrong.  That is what Dr. Martin Luther King fought against, that is what I rail and sometimes rant against, that is why we need activists and groups dedicated to fighting for equality for all people … today, tomorrow, and forever.

Here is a bit of trivia you may not know about Dr. King …

  • King’s birth name was Michael, not Martin.
    The civil rights leader was born Michael King Jr. on January 15, 1929. In 1934, however, his father, a pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, traveled to Germany and became inspired by the Protestant Reformation leader Martin Luther. As a result, King Sr. changed his own name as well as that of his 5-year-old son.

  • King entered college at the age of 15.
    King was such a gifted student that he skipped grades nine and 12 before enrolling in 1944 at Morehouse College, the alma mater of his father and maternal grandfather. Although he was the son, grandson and great-grandson of Baptist ministers, King did not intend to follow the family vocation until Morehouse president Benjamin E. Mays, a noted theologian, convinced him otherwise. King was ordained before graduating college with a degree in sociology.


  • King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was not his first at the Lincoln Memorial.
    Six years before his iconic oration at the March on Washington, King was among the civil rights leaders who spoke in the shadow of the Great Emancipator during the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom on May 17, 1957. Before a crowd estimated at between 15,000 and 30,000, King delivered his first national address on the topic of voting rights. His speech, in which he urged America to “give us the ballot,” drew strong reviews and positioned him at the forefront of the civil rights leadership.


  • King was imprisoned nearly 30 times.
    According to the King Center, the civil rights leader went to jail 29 times. He was arrested for acts of civil disobedience and on trumped-up charges, such as when he was jailed in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1956 for driving 30 miles per hour in a 25-mile-per-hour zone.


  • King narrowly escaped an assassination attempt a decade before his death.
    On September 20, 1958, King was in Harlem signing copies of his new book, “Stride Toward Freedom,” in Blumstein’s department store when he was approached by Izola Ware Curry. The woman asked if he was Martin Luther King Jr. After he said yes, Curry said, “I’ve been looking for you for five years,” and she plunged a seven-inch letter opener into his chest. The tip of the blade came to rest alongside his aorta, and King underwent hours of delicate emergency surgery. Surgeons later told King that just one sneeze could have punctured the aorta and killed him. From his hospital bed where he convalesced for weeks, King issued a statement affirming his nonviolent principles and saying he felt no ill will toward his mentally ill attacker.


  • King’s mother was also slain by a bullet.
    On June 30, 1974, as 69-year-old Alberta Williams King played the organ at a Sunday service inside Ebenezer Baptist Church, Marcus Wayne Chenault Jr. rose from the front pew, drew two pistols and began to fire shots. One of the bullets struck and killed King, who died steps from where her son had preached nonviolence. The deranged gunman said that Christians were his enemy and that although he had received divine instructions to kill King’s father, who was in the congregation, he killed King’s mother instead because she was closer. The shooting also left a church deacon dead. Chenault received a death penalty sentence that was later changed to life imprisonment, in part due to the King family’s opposition to capital punishment.

Dr. King fought and ultimately gave his life for the values I believe in, the values that should define this nation, though they often do not.  Dr. Martin Luther King was a hero of his time … thank you, Dr. King, for all you did, for the values you gave this nation, and for the hope you instilled in us all that your dream will someday come true.

[1] (Kendi, 2016)   stamped

Note:  Our friend TokyoSand has written a post with ideas for how each of us can help carry on Dr. King’s legacy … I hope you’ll pay her a visit!

The World I Dream Of

On August 28th, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington.  An excerpt … perhaps the most memorable lines …

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

That was in 1963, nearly 58 years ago, and today we are no closer to realizing Dr. King’s dream than we were then.  I once thought we were headed in the right direction, but I no longer believe that.  I have my own dream …

I dream of a world without guns, where people are well enough educated to be able to use words instead of weapons to resolve their differences.  I dream of a world where nuclear weapons have been destroyed forever, where armies and navies have been disbanded due to lack of need, and where instead of building warships and bombs, we are building housing for people in need, hospitals and schools in poor areas.

I dream of a world where national boundaries don’t exist.  This is not to say people cannot take pride in the history of their geographical region, but rather where people respect and cherish everyone, not just those who have a shared background or ethnicity.  I dream of a world where we are building bridges instead of walls.

I dream of a world where everyone pulls together to ensure that nobody anywhere on the globe goes to bed hungry, where medical care is available to all without charge.  I dream of a world where the environment is more important to everyone than technical gadgetry, air travel, expensive cars, fancy clothes, etc.

I dream of a world where people think more about planting trees than about a vacation to the beach.

But most of all, I dream of a world where people are humans, not hateful warriors, not bigots, not violent, just human.  In my dream world, people fall in love and it doesn’t matter to anybody else who they choose to love.  Same sex, different skin colour … no matter.  It’s nobody’s business.

I’ve lived in this world for nearly 70 years now, and frankly I’m tired of it all.  I’m tired of seeing people accumulate wealth for no reason other than to be on the Forbes list of richest people in the world.  I’m tired of seeing the arrogance of people with paler skin who believe they are somehow ‘better’ or ‘entitled’.  I’m tired of seeing religious leaders lie to their followers, telling them to shun others because they think or act differently, giving them a false sense of superiority.  I’m tired of police gunning down unarmed Black men because … just because they know they can get away with it.

I’m sick and tired of people who hunt wild animals for sport, for bragging rights.  I’m equally sick and tired of people who kill other people just because they had a bad day, or didn’t like the other person’s skin colour, hair style, or … whatever excuse they make.

I’m tired of men who abuse women, who still somehow believe they are entitled to dominance over women.  And I’m equally tired of women who allow men to do this, for we have the power to put a stop to it.

There are many good people in this world … I write about them every Wednesday.  But there is more wrong with the world than there is right at the moment, and I’m tired of living in a world where each day brings new abominations around the globe created by human greed.  It doesn’t have to be this way!  Humans in all their arrogance and greed are on the brink of bringing about the extinction of their own species if they don’t get serious about protecting the environment.  Some days I think maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

Martin Luther King’s advice on avoiding violence – a reprise

Our friend Keith has written a thoughtful and thought-provoking post for the day, for the times we are living through. He quotes Dr. Martin Luther King, one of the wisest men of our times. Thank you, Keith, for this perfect post!

musingsofanoldfart

The following post was written about nine years ago, but still resonates today.

Martin Luther King once said,“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very things it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, it merely increases the hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

These aspirational words ring true even today. A historian made a comment on the news the other day, saying the only thing man has been very good at since the…

View original post 486 more words

Now what?

Once again, our friend Brosephus is spot on with his assessment of the U.S. today. Would MLK be appalled? Probably, but then he’d jump in and get to work trying to help fix this mess. Thanks, Brosephus, for this accurate summation of where we are today.

The Mind of Brosephus

Now what

Yesterday morning, I opened up the WordPress editor to begin writing a column. The words that were bouncing around in my skull didn’t seem appropriate for a day honoring Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., so I left the page blank. I didn’t want to sully his memory with the things in my mind. In hindsight, yesterday was probably the most appropriate day of the year to let those words and the message they convey flow freely like water leaping from a waterfall.

America is a broken country. It’s been that way for a long time, but the false sheen of good (or greatness) has been rubbed away by the abrasiveness of modern politics. Instead of working towards the idea of E Pluribus Unum, we’ve been guided by a principle best described as “I’m getting mine, f**k yours”.

CoVID-19 exposed the shortcomings for American health care. Many already…

View original post 549 more words

Honouring Dr. Martin Luther King …

Today is Martin Luther King Day, a federal holiday in the United States.  I first wrote this tribute to Dr. King in 2017, and each year I reprise it, with slight changes or minor additions, for I find that it still says exactly what I wish to say.  Given the increase in racism in the United States over the past four years, and particularly last year with the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, and with peaceful Black Lives Matter protests being assaulted by law enforcement and white supremacists, I think the above quote seems more apt today than ever before.  So please, take just a minute to, if nothing else, listen once again to Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  In these troubled times, it is good to be reminded of Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream.


“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that.” 

“That old law about ‘an eye for an eye’ leaves everybody blind. The time is always right to do the right thing.”

mlk-3Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on 15 January 1929.  He would have been 92 years old last Wednesday, had he lived. On this day, we celebrate not only his life, but also his legacy. Martin Luther King Day celebrates not only Dr. King, but the movement he inspired and all those who helped move forward the notion of equal rights for ALL people, all those who worked tirelessly during the civil rights era of the 1960s, as well as those who are continuing the good fight even in this, the year 2021.  Dr. King’s fight lives on, for we have moved further away than before from his dream.

Dr. King, along with President John F. Kennedy, was the most moving speaker I have ever heard.  To this day, I cannot listen to his ‘I Have A Dream’ speech without tears filling my eyes.  If you haven’t heard it for a while, take a few minutes to watch/listen … I promise it will be worth your time.

This post is both a commemoration and a plea for us to carry on the work that was only begun, not yet finished, more than five decades ago.  Today we should remember some of the great heroes of the civil rights movement, those who worked tirelessly, some who gave their lives, that we could all live in peace and harmony someday: Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Nelson Mandela, Nina Simone, Mary McLeod Bethune, Lena Horne, Marva Collins, Rosa Parks, W.E.B. Du Bois, Malcolm X, Roy Innes, Medgar Evers, Stepen Bantu Biko, Booker T. Washington, John Lewis, Percy Julian, Marcus Garvey, Desmond Tutu, E.D. Nixon, James Meredith, and so many more.  I am willing to bet there are some on this list of whom you’ve never heard, or perhaps recognize the name but not the accomplishments. If you’re interested, you can find brief biographies of each of these and more at Biography.com .

Yet, while we celebrate the achievements of Dr. King and the others, there is still much to be done. Just look around you, read the news each day. Think about these statistics:

  • More than one in five black families live in households that are food insecure, compared to one in ten white families
  • Almost four in ten black children live in a household in poverty, nearly twice the rate of other racial groups
  • Among prime-age adults (ages 25 to 54), about one in five black men are not in the labor force, nearly twice the rate of other racial groups
  • Although blacks and whites use marijuana at approximately the same rate, blacks are over 3 and a half times more likely to get arrested for marijuana possession
  • For every dollar earned by a white worker, a black worker only makes 74 cents
  • Black families are twice as likely as whites to live in substandard housing conditions
  • Black college graduates now have twice the amount of debt as white college graduates
  • The likelihood of a black woman born in 2001 being imprisoned over the course of her lifetime is one in 18, compared to 1 in 111 for a white woman
  • Similarly, the likelihood of a black man being imprisoned is 1 in 3, compared to 1 in 17 for a white man
  • Of black children born into the bottom 20 percent of the income distribution, about half of them will still be there as adults, compared to less than one-quarter of white children

Data courtesy of the Brookings Institute – for charts and supporting details of above date, please click on link. 

And of course the above data does not even touch upon the recent spate of hate crimes, racial profiling, and police shootings against African-Americans.  There is still much of Dr. King’s work to be accomplished. But who is left to do this work?  Most of the leaders of yore are long since gone. There are still noble and courageous people out there carrying on the programs and works of Dr. King and the others, but their voices are perhaps not as loud, and there are none so charismatic as the late Dr. King.

In the current environment of racial divisiveness, we need more than ever to carry on what Dr. King only started. Instead, the past four years have found our nation backtracking on civil and human rights in a number of areas, ranging from discriminatory travel bans against Muslims to turning a federal blind eye to intentionally racially discriminatory state voter-suppression schemes, to opposing protections for transgender people, to inhumanely separating children from families seeking to enter the country.  I think Dr. King would be appalled if he returned to visit today.

In a speech on April 12th, 1850, then-Senator and future President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis said:

“This Government was not founded by negroes nor for negroes, but by white men for white men.” [1]

That was wrong then, it is wrong today, and it will always be wrong.  That is what Dr. Martin Luther King fought against, that is what I rail and sometimes rant against, that is why we need activists and groups dedicated to fighting for equality for all people … today, tomorrow, and forever.

Here is a bit of trivia you may not know about Dr. King …

  • King’s birth name was Michael, not Martin.
    The civil rights leader was born Michael King Jr. on January 15, 1929. In 1934, however, his father, a pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, traveled to Germany and became inspired by the Protestant Reformation leader Martin Luther. As a result, King Sr. changed his own name as well as that of his 5-year-old son.

  • King entered college at the age of 15.
    King was such a gifted student that he skipped grades nine and 12 before enrolling in 1944 at Morehouse College, the alma mater of his father and maternal grandfather. Although he was the son, grandson and great-grandson of Baptist ministers, King did not intend to follow the family vocation until Morehouse president Benjamin E. Mays, a noted theologian, convinced him otherwise. King was ordained before graduating college with a degree in sociology.


  • King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was not his first at the Lincoln Memorial.
    Six years before his iconic oration at the March on Washington, King was among the civil rights leaders who spoke in the shadow of the Great Emancipator during the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom on May 17, 1957. Before a crowd estimated at between 15,000 and 30,000, King delivered his first national address on the topic of voting rights. His speech, in which he urged America to “give us the ballot,” drew strong reviews and positioned him at the forefront of the civil rights leadership.


  • King was imprisoned nearly 30 times.
    According to the King Center, the civil rights leader went to jail 29 times. He was arrested for acts of civil disobedience and on trumped-up charges, such as when he was jailed in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1956 for driving 30 miles per hour in a 25-mile-per-hour zone.


  • King narrowly escaped an assassination attempt a decade before his death.
    On September 20, 1958, King was in Harlem signing copies of his new book, “Stride Toward Freedom,” in Blumstein’s department store when he was approached by Izola Ware Curry. The woman asked if he was Martin Luther King Jr. After he said yes, Curry said, “I’ve been looking for you for five years,” and she plunged a seven-inch letter opener into his chest. The tip of the blade came to rest alongside his aorta, and King underwent hours of delicate emergency surgery. Surgeons later told King that just one sneeze could have punctured the aorta and killed him. From his hospital bed where he convalesced for weeks, King issued a statement affirming his nonviolent principles and saying he felt no ill will toward his mentally ill attacker.


  • King’s mother was also slain by a bullet.
    On June 30, 1974, as 69-year-old Alberta Williams King played the organ at a Sunday service inside Ebenezer Baptist Church, Marcus Wayne Chenault Jr. rose from the front pew, drew two pistols and began to fire shots. One of the bullets struck and killed King, who died steps from where her son had preached nonviolence. The deranged gunman said that Christians were his enemy and that although he had received divine instructions to kill King’s father, who was in the congregation, he killed King’s mother instead because she was closer. The shooting also left a church deacon dead. Chenault received a death penalty sentence that was later changed to life imprisonment, in part due to the King family’s opposition to capital punishment.

Dr. King fought and ultimately gave his life for the values I believe in, the values that should define this nation, though they often do not.  Dr. Martin Luther King was a hero of his time … thank you, Dr. King, for all you did, for the values you gave this nation, and for the hope you instilled in us all that your dream will someday come true.

[1] (Kendi, 2016)   stamped

Note:  Our friend TokyoSand has written a post with ideas for how each of us can help carry on Dr. King’s legacy … I hope you’ll pay her a visit!

John Lewis’ Final Words …

John Lewis knew he had few days left on this earth, and he left a powerful message to us all to be published on the day of his funeral, today.  I let his words speak for themselves …


John-Lewis

While my time here has now come to an end, I want you to know that in the last days and hours of my life you inspired me. You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society. Millions of people motivated simply by human compassion laid down the burdens of division. Around the country and the world you set aside race, class, age, language and nationality to demand respect for human dignity.

That is why I had to visit Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, though I was admitted to the hospital the following day. I just had to see and feel it for myself that, after many years of silent witness, the truth is still marching on.

Emmett Till was my George Floyd. He was my Rayshard Brooks, Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor. He was 14 when he was killed, and I was only 15 years old at the time. I will never ever forget the moment when it became so clear that he could easily have been me. In those days, fear constrained us like an imaginary prison, and troubling thoughts of potential brutality committed for no understandable reason were the bars.

Though I was surrounded by two loving parents, plenty of brothers, sisters and cousins, their love could not protect me from the unholy oppression waiting just outside that family circle. Unchecked, unrestrained violence and government-sanctioned terror had the power to turn a simple stroll to the store for some Skittles or an innocent morning jog down a lonesome country road into a nightmare. If we are to survive as one unified nation, we must discover what so readily takes root in our hearts that could rob Mother Emanuel Church in South Carolina of her brightest and best, shoot unwitting concertgoers in Las Vegas and choke to death the hopes and dreams of a gifted violinist like Elijah McClain.

Like so many young people today, I was searching for a way out, or some might say a way in, and then I heard the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on an old radio. He was talking about the philosophy and discipline of nonviolence. He said we are all complicit when we tolerate injustice. He said it is not enough to say it will get better by and by. He said each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up and speak out. When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.

Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.

You must also study and learn the lessons of history because humanity has been involved in this soul-wrenching, existential struggle for a very long time. People on every continent have stood in your shoes, though decades and centuries before you. The truth does not change, and that is why the answers worked out long ago can help you find solutions to the challenges of our time. Continue to build union between movements stretching across the globe because we must put away our willingness to profit from the exploitation of others.

Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.

When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.

John Lewis: The Last Of The True Heroes

Last night, right around midnight, as I had just finished writing and scheduling my Saturday Surprise post and was in the process of responding to comments, a breaking news flash crossed my screen that took my breath, caused me to utter aloud, “NO!”, and broke my heart.  Congressman John Lewis had died.

John-Lewis-quoteThere are few people alive today who deserve the title ‘hero’ in every sense of the word.  John Lewis was one such person.

When President Obama awarded John Lewis the Medal of Freedom in 2011, he said …

“Generations from now, when parents teach their children what is meant by courage, the story of John Lewis will come to mind — an American who knew that change could not wait for some other person or some other time; whose life is a lesson in the fierce urgency of now.”

obama-lewis John Robert Lewis was born in Troy, Alabama, on Feb. 21, 1940, one of 10 children of Eddie and Willie Mae Lewis. According to “March,” his three-part autobiography in graphic novel form, he dreamed from a young age of being a preacher. He was in charge of taking care of his family’s chickens and would practice sermons on them: “I preached to my chickens just about every night.”  But life had other plans for young John Lewis.

John Lewis was the last of the most relevant civil rights leaders from the 1950s and 1960s.  In 1955, Lewis first heard Martin Luther King, Jr. on the radio, and, when the Montgomery Bus Boycott (led by King) began later that year, Lewis closely followed the news about it. Lewis would later meet Rosa Parks when he was 17 and met King for the first time when he was 18.  By the time he came of age, his path was chosen.

I could not possibly list all of Mr. Lewis’ accomplishments in this single post, but I would like to highlight a few.

As a student at American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, Tennessee, Lewis first became a part of the Civil Rights Movement, organizing sit-ins at segregated lunch counters that eventually led to the desegregation of Nashville’s lunch counters.

John-Lewis-lunch-counter-sit-in

Lewis was arrested and jailed many times in the nonviolent movement to desegregate the downtown area of the city. He was also instrumental in organizing bus boycotts and other nonviolent protests in the fight for voter and racial equality.

John-Lewis-early-arrest

In 1961, Lewis became one of the 13 original Freedom Riders. There were seven whites and six blacks who were determined to ride from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans in an integrated fashion. At that time, several states of the old Confederacy still enforced laws prohibiting black and white riders from sitting next to each other on public transportation.  The Freedom Ride was initiated to pressure the federal government to enforce the Supreme Court decision in Boynton v Virginia (1960) that declared segregated interstate bus travel to be unconstitutional.

In the South, Lewis and other nonviolent Freedom Riders were beaten by angry mobs, arrested at times and taken to jail. At 21 years old, Lewis was the first of the Freedom Riders to be assaulted while in Rock Hill, South Carolina. He tried to enter a whites-only waiting room and two white men attacked him, injuring his face and kicking him in the ribs. Nevertheless, only two weeks later Lewis joined a Freedom Ride that was bound for Jackson.

“We were determined not to let any act of violence keep us from our goal. We knew our lives could be threatened, but we had made up our minds not to turn back.”

Lewis was also imprisoned for forty days in the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Sunflower County, Mississippi, after participating in a Freedom Riders activity in that state.  But John Lewis was not a quitter.

In Birmingham, the Riders were mercilessly beaten, and in Montgomery, an angry mob met the bus, and Lewis was hit in the head with a wooden crate.

“It was very violent. I thought I was going to die. I was left lying at the Greyhound bus station in Montgomery unconscious.”

In February 2009, forty-eight years after he had been bloodied in a Greyhound station during a Freedom Ride, Lewis received an apology on national television from a white southerner, former Klansman Elwin Wilson.

In 1963, Lewis was named one of the “Big Six” leaders who were organizing the March on Washington, the occasion of Dr. King’s celebrated “I Have a Dream” speech. Lewis also spoke at the March. Discussing the occasion, historian Howard Zinn wrote:

“At the great Washington March of 1963, the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), John Lewis, speaking to the same enormous crowd that heard Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech, was prepared to ask the right question: ‘Which side is the federal government on?’ That sentence was eliminated from his speech by organizers of the March to avoid offending the Kennedy Administration. But Lewis and his fellow SNCC workers had experienced, again and again, the strange passivity of the national government in the face of Southern violence.”

John-Lewis-Edmund-Pettus-Bridge

John-Lewis-Edmund-Pettis-BridgeIn 1965, at age 25, Lewis marched with Dr. Martin Luther King from Selma to Montgomery, and was on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday, where he was beaten by police and knocked unconscious.  When the marchers stopped to pray, the police discharged tear gas and mounted troopers charged the demonstrators, beating them with night sticks. Lewis’s skull was fractured, but he escaped across the bridge to Brown Chapel, the movement’s headquarter church in Selma. Before Lewis could be taken to the hospital, he appeared before the television cameras calling on President Johnson to intervene in Alabama.  Lewis still bore the scars on his head from the incident.

John-Lewis-CongressIn 1986, John Lewis was elected to the House of Representatives from Georgia’s fifth district, a seat he would win and hold until his death last night.  He was reelected 16 times, dropping below 70 percent of the vote in the general election only once. In 1994, he defeated Republican Dale Dixon by a 38-point margin, 69%–31%. He ran unopposed in 1996, from 2004 to 2008, in 2014, and again in 2018.

Throughout his 34 years in Congress he fought for human rights, for civil rights … for your rights and mine … for our children’s and grandchildren’s.  He spoke out loud and clear in favour of LGBT rights, national health insurance, gun regulation, and has often been called “the conscience of Congress.”

“My overarching duty as I declared during that 1986 campaign and during every campaign since then, has been to uphold and apply to our entire society the principles which formed the foundation of the movement to which I have devoted my entire life.”

Coming from another, that might be considered just political rhetoric, but from John Lewis, truer words were never spoken.  He not only talked the talk, but he walked the walk for his entire life.  The world is a little darker place today without John Lewis in it.  RIP John Lewis … you are missed already.

 

I Have A Dream …

Tomorrow is Martin Luther King Day, a federal holiday in the United States.  I first wrote this tribute to Dr. King in 2017, and each year I reprise it, with slight changes or minor additions, for I find that it still says exactly what I wish to say.  I am posting it a day ahead this year, for a few reasons, the main one being that I don’t wish it to be overshadowed by the white supremacist/gun rally that will be taking place in Virginia tomorrow.  Dr. King’s memory deserves better than that.  So please, take just a minute to, if nothing else, listen once again to Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  In these troubled times, it is good to be reminded of Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream.


“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that.” 

“That old law about ‘an eye for an eye’ leaves everybody blind. The time is always right to do the right thing.”

mlk-3Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on 15 January 1929.  He would have been 91 years old last Wednesday, had he lived. On this day, we celebrate not only his life, but also his legacy. Martin Luther King Day celebrates not only Dr. King, but the movement he inspired and all those who helped move forward the notion of equal rights for ALL races, all those who worked tirelessly during the civil rights era of the 1960s, as well as those who are continuing the good fight even in this, the year 2020.

Dr. King, along with President John F. Kennedy, was the most moving speaker I have ever heard.  To this day, I cannot listen to his ‘I Have A Dream’ speech without tears filling my eyes.  If you haven’t heard it for a while, take a few minutes to watch/listen … I promise it will be worth your time.

This post is both a commemoration and a plea for us to carry on the work that was only begun, not yet finished, more than five decades ago.  Today we should remember some of the great heroes of the civil rights movement, those who worked tirelessly, some who gave their lives, that we could all live in peace and harmony someday: Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Nelson Mandela, Nina Simone, Mary McLeod Bethune, Lena Horne, Marva Collins, Rosa Parks, W.E.B. Du Bois, Malcolm X, Roy Innes, Medgar Evers, Booker T. Washington, John Lewis, Percy Julian, Marcus Garvey, Desmond Tutu, E.D. Nixon, James Meredith, and so many more.  I am willing to bet there are some on this list of whom you’ve never heard, or perhaps recognize the name but not the accomplishments. If you’re interested, you can find brief biographies of each of these and more at Biography.com .

Yet, while we celebrate the achievements of Dr. King and the others, there is still much to be done. Just look around you, read the news each day. Think about these statistics:

  • More than one in five black families live in households that are food insecure, compared to one in ten white families
  • Almost four in ten black children live in a household in poverty, nearly twice the rate of other racial groups
  • Among prime-age adults (ages 25 to 54), about one in five black men are not in the labor force, nearly twice the rate of other racial groups
  • Although blacks and whites use marijuana at approximately the same rate, blacks are over 3 and a half times more likely to get arrested for marijuana possession
  • For every dollar earned by a white worker, a black worker only makes 74 cents
  • Black families are twice as likely as whites to live in substandard housing conditions
  • Black college graduates now have twice the amount of debt as white college graduates
  • The likelihood of a black woman born in 2001 being imprisoned over the course of her lifetime is one in 18, compared to 1 in 111 for a white woman
  • Similarly, the likelihood of a black man being imprisoned is 1 in 3, compared to 1 in 17 for a white man
  • Of black children born into the bottom 20 percent of the income distribution, about half of them will still be there as adults, compared to less than one-quarter of white children

Data courtesy of the Brookings Institute – for charts and supporting details of above date, please click on link. 

And of course the above data does not even touch upon the recent spate of hate crimes, racial profiling, and police shootings against African-Americans.  There is still much of Dr. King’s work to be accomplished. But who is left to do this work?  Most of the leaders of yore are long since gone. There are still noble and courageous people out there carrying on the programs and works of Dr. King and the others, but their voices are perhaps not as loud, and there are none so charismatic as the late Dr. King.

In the current environment of racial divisiveness, we need more than ever to carry on what Dr. King only started. Instead, the past three years have found our nation backtracking on civil and human rights in a number of areas, ranging from discriminatory travel bans against Muslims to turning a federal blind eye to intentionally racially discriminatory state voter-suppression schemes, to opposing protections for transgender people, to inhumanely separating children from families seeking to enter the country.  I think Dr. King would be appalled if he returned to visit today.

In a speech on April 12th, 1850, then-Senator and future President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis said:

“This Government was not founded by negroes nor for negroes, but by white men for white men.” [1]

That was wrong then, it is wrong today, and it will always be wrong.  That is what Dr. Martin Luther King fought against, that is what I rail and sometimes rant against, that is why we need activists and groups dedicated to fighting for equality for all people … today, tomorrow, and forever.

Here is a bit of trivia you may not know about Dr. King …

  • King’s birth name was Michael, not Martin.
    The civil rights leader was born Michael King Jr. on January 15, 1929. In 1934, however, his father, a pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, traveled to Germany and became inspired by the Protestant Reformation leader Martin Luther. As a result, King Sr. changed his own name as well as that of his 5-year-old son.

  • King entered college at the age of 15.
    King was such a gifted student that he skipped grades nine and 12 before enrolling in 1944 at Morehouse College, the alma mater of his father and maternal grandfather. Although he was the son, grandson and great-grandson of Baptist ministers, King did not intend to follow the family vocation until Morehouse president Benjamin E. Mays, a noted theologian, convinced him otherwise. King was ordained before graduating college with a degree in sociology.


  • King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was not his first at the Lincoln Memorial.
    Six years before his iconic oration at the March on Washington, King was among the civil rights leaders who spoke in the shadow of the Great Emancipator during the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom on May 17, 1957. Before a crowd estimated at between 15,000 and 30,000, King delivered his first national address on the topic of voting rights. His speech, in which he urged America to “give us the ballot,” drew strong reviews and positioned him at the forefront of the civil rights leadership.


  • King was imprisoned nearly 30 times.
    According to the King Center, the civil rights leader went to jail 29 times. He was arrested for acts of civil disobedience and on trumped-up charges, such as when he was jailed in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1956 for driving 30 miles per hour in a 25-mile-per-hour zone.


  • King narrowly escaped an assassination attempt a decade before his death.
    On September 20, 1958, King was in Harlem signing copies of his new book, “Stride Toward Freedom,” in Blumstein’s department store when he was approached by Izola Ware Curry. The woman asked if he was Martin Luther King Jr. After he said yes, Curry said, “I’ve been looking for you for five years,” and she plunged a seven-inch letter opener into his chest. The tip of the blade came to rest alongside his aorta, and King underwent hours of delicate emergency surgery. Surgeons later told King that just one sneeze could have punctured the aorta and killed him. From his hospital bed where he convalesced for weeks, King issued a statement affirming his nonviolent principles and saying he felt no ill will toward his mentally ill attacker.


  • King’s mother was also slain by a bullet.
    On June 30, 1974, as 69-year-old Alberta Williams King played the organ at a Sunday service inside Ebenezer Baptist Church, Marcus Wayne Chenault Jr. rose from the front pew, drew two pistols and began to fire shots. One of the bullets struck and killed King, who died steps from where her son had preached nonviolence. The deranged gunman said that Christians were his enemy and that although he had received divine instructions to kill King’s father, who was in the congregation, he killed King’s mother instead because she was closer. The shooting also left a church deacon dead. Chenault received a death penalty sentence that was later changed to life imprisonment, in part due to the King family’s opposition to capital punishment.

Dr. King fought and ultimately gave his life for the values I believe in, the values that should define this nation, though they often do not.  Dr. Martin Luther King was a hero of his time … thank you, Dr. King, for all you did, for the values you gave this nation, and for the hope you instilled in us all that your dream will someday come true.

[1] (Kendi, 2016)   stamped