Carrying on MLK’s legacy, 50 years later
On April 4, 2018, The Real News Network held an event to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This event featured stirring speeches from then-Senator Nina Turner, Danny Glover, and TRNN Executive Producer Eddie Conway about the radical legacy of MLK and the millions who made the civil rights movement what it was, and about how we in the present are tasked with honoring that legacy and carrying it into the future. This Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we find ourselves in a different world than the one we were in when TRNN held this event. But the struggle is no different—and, just like before, it’s on all of us to take up that struggle.
This special MLK Day episode of Rattling the Bars features clips from the speeches Sen. Turner and Glover delivered in 2018, accompanied by an updated introduction from Eddie Conway.
Post-Production: Cameron Granadino
The following is a rushed transcript and may contain errors. A proofread version will be made available as soon as possible.
Eddie Conway: I am Eddie Conway, executive producer at the Real News and host of Rattling the Bars. Two years ago, on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, we held the program in the Real News Network building. We brought together a wide range of people from the community in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, in recognition of his service and in recognition of his legacy. Even today, 50 years later, there continue to be poor peoples’ campaigns across America.
A lot has changed since we did this program two years ago. We are in the midst of a pandemic in America. We are also in the midst of a fascist attempt to take power, and people can no longer gather in large gatherings. I think it’s important that we look at what was being said two years ago and what was being said 50 years ago and weigh that against what’s going on today.
We have brought together two prominent people that continues to do the work of Dr. Martin Luther King: former Ohio State Senator Nina Turner, who’s now running for Congress, represents the history and the legacy of Black women in struggle throughout the ages. In America, we had Fannie Lou Hamer; we had Rosa Parks; we had Ella Baker; we had Harriet Tubman. We had a host of Black women that took up the banner for civil rights and human rights and pushed the struggle forward. In fact, we would not be where we are today if women had not led the charge to make changes in America. Nina Turner is working in the tradition of those women as well as Dr. Martin Luther King.
Our second guest speaker was Danny Glover, well-known actor and activist in America and the world. What people don’t know a lot of times is that he and his fellow students at San Francisco State led the longest student strike in the history of America, making demands about Black studies and Black history studies. At the end of that strike, they won the right to have Black studies, Black history departments, and that’s spread all across the country. So, in effect, Danny Glover is one of the fathers of Black student unions, Black studies, and Black history departments.
Here, we want to share excerpts from the speeches of our guests who continue to walk in the footsteps of Dr. Martin Luther King in their own way. If you want to hear the entire speech, go to the link below.
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Nina Turner: The fact that we have gathered together and that people are gathering together all over this country to recognize the sacrifices of not just Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, but also of Mrs. Coretta Scott King and their children, their entire family’s sacrifice for this justice journey. Sometimes we just can’t. I just want us to wrap our mind around that, that they gave so much to fight for justice in this country, wrap our mind around that because today in this country, for the most part, we can speak out against injustice without worrying about somebody coming to kill us. For the most part. For the most part. So, we owe a debt of gratitude to that family and to all of the freedom fighters whose names we know and those whose names we do not know.
We owe them a debt that we will never, ever, ever, ever be able to repay. But sisters and brothers from all walks of life, we ought to put a down payment on the debt. We can’t repay it, but we need to put 5 on it. We need to put 10 on it, 20 on it. We need to put some time, some treasure, and some talent on the debt. And that is all of us because what the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King was fighting for was for decency and dignity and liberation of the people who Zora Neale Hurston said, “whose skin has been kissed by the sun.” What the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King understood is that African American liberation, that Black liberation was the liberation of humanity. He did not equivocate on that. He was radical because he was fighting against the status quo of his day.
I don’t know how many of you had the opportunity to read what Reverend Jesse Jackson wrote today in the New York Times, but I encourage you to read that because he told the absolute truth. Sometimes we don’t want to deal with the truth. The truth of the matter is, is that at the time that the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., lived, wrap your mind around this, a man that was a champion for justice and peace and love, when the Gallup poll polled his favorability, that he was in the 30s, I think it was about 36%. Wrap your mind around that. That is hard for us to understand in the 21st century because as Reverend Jackson pointed out in his article today, that when the man was on the mission, and even Dr. King pointed it out in his speech when he made comparisons that it was okay for them to be non-violent against racists and segregationists in the South, but it’s not okay to talk about what we were doing to our brown sisters and brothers across the seas. That was not all right. Even Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King alluded to that.
So, we do have some of the same problems on our hands 50 years later. So, to wrap our minds around the fact that he and other freedom fighters gave so much; they gave their lives and those people who did not physically die gave their livelihood. Before he died, he was in Memphis to march with Black sanitation workers who were treated worse than dogs, working their skin to the bone in a system that relegated them to only do that type of work. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was there with them, along with other folks as they march with signs: “I am a man. I am a woman. I am somebody. I am a human being. I am entitled to love and decency and dignity. I am.”
We need to begin to tell the truth about the history, that a lot of times, as Professor Eddie Glaude wrote about the whitewashing of the legacy of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., how people on the right use him and twist his words about judging people by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin, forgetting to put the emphasis on the fact that he was talking about how this country would not give African American folks an equal opportunity to live out their greatest greatness. That’s what he was talking about.
And how you got people on the left, these so-called Democrats who will prop up the memory of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but then equivocate about whether or not we deserve Medicare for all or universal healthcare in the United States of America. We done with that. We got to call out some folks, and in his speech, Dr. King made it clear that time has passed for superficial patriotism. Sisters and brother, can I say, and the time has passed to be loyal to parties who are not loyal to our people.
Audience: Yes! Yeah!
Nina Turner: The time has passed. The time has passed.
Danny Glover: I’ve read this “Beyond Vietnam” speech so many different times. I’ve listened to it. I’ve heard parts of it. I heard it quoted in various forms and everything else. But I understand the essence of all that we search for and all that we tried to understand, in some sense, he contextualized so much into this speech. He brings us to the true and the reality that we live in his voice about racism, extreme militarism, his connecting those to materialism. All those things are the things that we, in some sense, contextualize. But somewhere in his voice, his voice, his profound voice, he was able to take those and have us understand even more than we thought we were capable of understanding.
For King, King knew that he was not the movement. He was part of a much larger movement. When King, Dr. King talked about the world house, he understood the relationship between what happens here and what happens in the rest of the world. But King comes from a long family of traditionalism, of internationalism, has a history grounded in the voices of Paul Robeson, the voices of W.E.B. Du Bois, the voices of Eugene Debs, the voices of Emma Golden. That’s where King comes out of that context, the voices of those profound and prophetic ministers and truth tellers before him. He comes out of that context as if he listened to every one of those voices, in which he absorbed every one of those voices that gave him an opportunity to contextualize not what’s happening at that particular point that those voices flourished and were able to resonate in our public space, in our public life, but what it meant for today in this moment.
So, as we use this barometer, this space, this place, right here at that moment that we hear his voice now, we see in the manifestation of that prophecy, the manifestation of his telling us that what we need to do as citizens, ordinary citizens in service, in service. King always said it didn’t take a PhD to serve. It didn’t take a great education to serve. But to serve humanity, to serve in that way, King brought us that, the sense of service, ultimately, the sense of an embodiment of ourselves in giving of ourselves, connecting service to love, love for humanity, connecting service to our compassions, to feel our possibilities of transformation. That’s what we’re talking about.
In every moment, we see that. We see it in every generation. We see those things that happen in the moment that we now begin to think that we’re on the path to something, but we know we have to continue to fight. We know that we have to continue to move forward. We know that we have to take the contradictions that exist today at this moment and understand that their historic significance, their past significance and those relationships, the relationships that are spawned from those for today, and the actions that we need to take, we know that. We know that more than ever.
It’s not as if we had, at the end of this and we had no Trump in the White House, and we had some other manifestation of the Democratic Party. We would’ve had to deal with the same issues. We’d had to come to terms with the same reality, the same truth. What is it? Whose democracy is this? It’s the [inaudible 00:14:02] question that has happened in the history of this country whose democracy that has belonged to, and whose voices are the ones that resonate and fight and struggle and dig, that feed into the ground and say, “We’re going to stand here. We not going anywhere”? Those are our voices, the voices of service, the voices of those who’ve been dispossessed, the voices of those who’ve been disenfranchised.
It’s our service and our responsibility, through what we do, not only in domestic politics, but how we understand and our imprint in foreign policy as well. It’s our responsibility to wage this fight and to keep on waging this fight for not only simply us, but for future generations, for the transformation that King talked about. It was so clear as if he spoke, not 50 years ago, but yesterday about transformation. That’s what he talked about. That is our responsibility. Those of us who are here and have been here and marched through those particular point in time over the last 50 years, it’s our responsibility to train the new young voices here, right here in Baltimore, to train the New York young voices everywhere here, to find ways of building coalitions, to understand that when we talk about Black Lives Matter, when we talk about the decade of African descendants, we not just talking about Black people, we talking about humanity. And that’s what King talked about, humanity and what we need to do.