By Mal’akiy Allah
April 4, 2022, marked the 55th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. After bringing international attention to the plight of Africans in the United States for a decade and a half, he was heartlessly gunned down in Memphis, Tenn., on April 4, 1968. Toward the end of his physical life, he was bringing more attention to the exploitive system of capitalism, the military industrial complex, and police terrorism.
King delivered his “The Other America” dissertation on April 14, 1967, at California’s Stanford University, 10 days after his revealing “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” speech at Harlem’s Riverside Church. He touched on these topics, as well as this country’s overt racism and also critiqued the vast disparities in educational, employment, and housing opportunities between African Americans and European Americans.
“There are literally two Americas,” he opened with. “One America is beautiful,” which “is overflowing with the milk of prosperity and the honey of opportunity. In this America, millions experience every day the opportunity of having life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in all of their dimensions. And in this America, millions of young people grow up in the sunlight of opportunity.
“But tragically and unfortunately, there is another America,” he continued. “This other America has a daily ugliness about it that constantly transforms the ebullience of hope into the fatigue of despair. In this America, millions of work-starved men walk the streets daily in search for jobs that do not exist. In this America, millions of people find themselves living in rat-infested, vermin-filled slums. In this America, people are poor by the millions. They find themselves perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.”
King added that, “the greatest tragedy is what it does to little children [who are] forced to grow up with clouds of inferiority forming every day in their little mental skies. The [African American] finds himself living in a triple ghetto of race, poverty, and human misery.”
King went on to lay out the “humiliation that surrounded that system of segregation,” where Blacks were separated from their Caucasian counterparts in public restaurants, schools, and transportation. Some thought it was “[m]ore honorable to accept jail cell experiences than to accept segregation and humiliation,” he said.
He also mentioned the 1964 Civil Rights Bill and 1965 Voting Rights Bill as having “represented strides” toward justice, although “[Blacks are] economically facing a depression in [their] everyday life that is more staggering than the Depression of the ’30s.”
King said that “Racism is still alive in American society, and we must see racism for what it is. It’s a myth of the superior and the inferior race. In the final analysis, racism is evil because its ultimate logic is genocide.”
Although Blacks never received their 40 acres and a mule during the Reconstruction era, “America was giving millions of acres of land in the West and the Midwest, which meant that America was willing to undergird its white peasants from Europe with an economic floor that would make it possible to grow and develop, and refused to give that economic floor to its Black peasants,” King charged.
“It [says] on the Statue of Liberty that America is a home of exiles. It doesn’t take us long to realize that America has been the home of its white exiles from Europe. But it has not evinced the same kind of maternal care and concern for its Black exiles from Africa,” he said.
“Today, all of our cities are potentially powder kegs” and “it’s impracticable for [Blacks] to even think of mounting a violent revolution in the U.S.,” he said. “America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society [that] must be condemned. A riot is the language of the unheard. And so in a real sense, our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay.”
King contended that “[a]lthough it may be true that morality cannot be legislated, behavior can be regulated. Even though it may be true that the law cannot change the heart, it can restrain the heartless. Even though it may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, it can restrain him from lynching me. And I think that’s pretty important.”