Over the last two years, there’s been a lot of discussion about what makes our country great, and more importantly, what doesn’t. We each have our own vision, dream or reality about what it means to live in America. That vision is why we run for office, volunteer, or work to achieve those ideals. Like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we understand that we will likely plant trees whose shade we will never sit in, but you plant the seeds anyway. King’s crop has grown into real and tangible change, both domestically and abroad.
His moral appeal for equity and inclusion, political and social transformation was essential in the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Right Act. The 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination was impacted by King’s crop. But the soil was tilled early, when five years prior he talked about the absurdity of apartheid.
Even in death, the harvest of King’s work was instrumental in the passage of the federal Fair Housing Act. In the 1960’s King participated in the open housing marches in Chicago. He sent a telegram of support to Father Groppi and Milwaukee’s marchers during our own marches, which lasted up until a week before Dr. King’s assassination on April 4, 1968. Seizing the national outrage surrounding his death, President Lyndon Johnson was able to urge Congress to rush the passage of the Fair Housing Act on April 11 that year. But Dr. King’s work wasn’t limited to those areas. He fought for quality of life issues, as well.
Poor work conditions, barriers to education, restricted employment opportunities, economic disparities and racism in its worst form were the problems Dr. King addressed the evening before his death on April 3, 1968. Many of those issues persist today. For many, a zip code continues to mean much more than where you live. It means an underfunded school and tainted tap water. It means police over policing and starting often off with less.
But King also talked of hope and a vision of what the country could be that fateful evening. From the mountaintop he could see a Barack Obama presidency, an Eric Holder as Attorney General, integrated neighborhoods and schools, and an America that was the best of us. Dr. King was able to see the greatness in this country because he helped to lay the groundwork, plant the seed, and steady the foundation.
It is our job to build on that work and groups like Black Lives Matter and Black Leaders Organizing for Communities (BLOC) are a continuation of earlier predecessors such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), or the Black Panthers.
We’ve inherited the crop, what seeds will we grow?