In June 2000, I wrote in this column about the next March on Washington:
“For those of you who were too young or not able to attend the 1963 event, you have another chance. The ‘Redeem the Dream’ – the 37th Anniversary of the March on Washington, will take place August 26 (2000) at the Lincoln Memorial.
“Martin Luther King III, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Dick Gregory and the Rev. Walter Fauntroy are among the organizers protesting police brutality and racial profiling. They want to urge President Clinton and Congress to pass legislation to protect innocent people. A host of civil rights leaders and the clergy are inviting people of all backgrounds and colors to participate.”
Does it sound familiar 14 years later? Why did it take the murder of Michael Brown to bring attention to a system many have long compared to apartheid?
Let us compare what is happening in Ferguson to what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. experienced in Birmingham, Alabama. When several clergymen denounced Dr. King’s tactics in Birmingham, he responded in his letter from a Birmingham jail.
“You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations,” King wrote. “I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city's white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.”
This is the significance of “no justice, no peace.” If you compare Ferguson, Missouri with Birmingham, Alabama you will find the similarities and understand why civil disobedience and direct action were needed.
Dr. King also answered his critics regarding direct action.
“You may well ask: why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?
“You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to so dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent-resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word ‘tension.’ I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.
“Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.
“The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.”
Ferguson is in the national spotlight, and several new and old coalitions have been formed. I do believe that Sam Cook was prophetic when he sang, “A change is going to come.”
Please watch the Bernie Hayes TV program Saturday Night at 10pm and Sunday Evenings at 5:30 pm on KNLC-TV Ch. 24. I can be reached by fax at (314) 837-3369 or e-mail at: email@example.com.