Water Man Spouts

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A Testament of Hope

As we approach the democratic primary in South Carolina, just a short time after Martin Luther King Day, I thought it might be interesting to look back at a couple of paragraphs from this essay. Martin’s "A Testament of Hope" was published posthumously, and perhaps for that reason, has too often been overlooked. I like it because he speaks of "human rights" instead of simply "civil rights." And he is talking about political power in a manner that reminds me of another minister from the 1960s, Malcolm X, who said that when black people began to understand the science of politics, they could use their vote to determine who went to the White House, and who went to the dog house.

Martin warned that blacks should not view their political power as separate from others; he knew that all Americans needed to work together to reach the higher ground he saw in our future. Intelligent people, he noted, " must see this as their task and contribute to its support."
King also speaks about the contributions of the civil rights workers and two presidents, to the gains that were made in federal legislation:

"One of the most basic weapons in the fight for social justice will be the cumulative political power of the Negro. I can foresee the Negro vote becoming consistently the decisive vote in national elections. It is already decisive in states that have large numbers of electoral votes. Even today, the Negroes in New York City strongly influence how New York State will go in national elections, and the Negroes in Chicago have a similar leverage in Illinois. Negroes are even the decisive balance of power in elections in Georgia, South Carolina, and Virginia. So the party and the candidate that gets the support of the Negro voter in national elections will have a very definite edge, and we intend to use this fact to win advances in the struggle for human rights. …..

"The past record of the federal government, however, has not been encouraging. No president has really done very much for the American Negro, though the past two presidents have received much undeserved credit for helping us. This credit has accrued to Lyndon Johnson and John Kennedy only because it was during their administrations that Negroes began doing more for themselves. Kennedy didn’t willingly submit a civil rights bill, nor did Lyndon Johnson. In fact, both told us at one time that such legislation was impossible. President Johnson did respond realistically to the signs of the times and used his skills as a legislator to get bills through Congress that other men might not have gotten through. I must point out, in all honesty, however, that President Johnson has not been nearly so diligent in implementing the bills he has helped shepherd through Congress."

Our nation faces many problems today, and it would be foolish to think that the leaders of the democratic party alone are going to solve them. But we make progress, and the democratic party offers us the best chance at healing the damage done in the past 7 years.

No matter which candidate we support in the primaries, I think that Saturday will show that Martin was correct in his beliefs. And we can best do our part by taking part in voter registration drives in the spring and summer months, to prepare for the fall elections.


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