Our Common Path
DAY 2: Honoring the Ministry of Dr. Martin Luther King
“In some ways, these tactics are not Jim Crow. They do not feature Night Riders and sheets…This is in fact, James Crow, Esq. Jim Crow used blunt tools. James Crow, Esq. uses surgical tools, consultants, high paid consultants and lawyers to cut out the heart of black political power.”
– The Rev. William Barber, NAACP North Carolina president, speaking about the assault on voting rights
This week, as we honor the legacy and service of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and celebrate the movement that brought the old Jim Crow to its knees, we also recommit to dreaming new dreams and doing the hard work of building a movement to end the new Jim Crow. The “March on Washington” was originally named the “March for Jobs and Freedom.” And yet today the black unemployment rate is still twice that of whites. Black folks are now free to sit at any lunch counter, but they are far more likely to go to jail, be branded a criminal, and then be relegated to a permanent second-class status in which discrimination in employment, housing, access to education, and public benefits is legal once again.
The memories of Oscar Grant, Travyon Martin, and the millions their memories represent are not forgotten. Nor is the fact that nearly 50 years after the signing of the Voting Rights Act, a disheartening new assault on minority voting rights is taking place in this country—yet another reason we must be vigilant and steadfast in our quest for justice.
During these 30 Days of Love, as we embark on a spiritual journey for social justice, we can also commit to listening closely when we are called to stand in solidarity. A few weeks ago, nine Unitarian Universalist ministers joined the NAACP in issuing a call to action to participate in a Mass Moral March in Raleigh, N.C. on Saturday, February 8th. North Carolina is serving as an epicenter of sweeping new voting restrictions, as well as a host of other regressive policies. It is being viewed as a “test state to unleash these regressive chains of injustice across the country,” said our friends in North Carolina, each of whom have engaged in civil disobedience because “we knew that to suppress the vote is to suppress the spirit of a person.”
Friends, will you please heed this call to action and join the Mass Moral March on February 8th?
Just one month after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, North Carolina passed the country’s worst voter suppression laws that will have a disproportionate impact on black voters in the state. The legislature made cuts to early voting and same-day voter registration, targeted the votes of students and young people, and repealed public financing of judicial elections designed to keep special interest money out of our courtrooms. That’s not all. The Governor signed into law a bill that repealed the state’s Racial Justice Act of 2009, which allowed inmates facing the death penalty to challenge their sentences on the basis of racial discrimination. Lawmakers and the Governor have also made drastic cuts to social programs and education.
Please come to Raleigh Feb. 8, 2014. Join UUA Pres. Rev. Peter Morales; Reverend William Barber II, President of the NAACP NC; and Unitarian Universalists in North Carolina for a Mass Moral March on Raleigh for voting rights and economic, racial, and social justice.
In my view, the most important lesson we can learn from Dr. King is not what he said at the March on Washington, but what he said and did after the march. In the years following the march, he did not play politics to see what crumbs a fundamentally corrupt system might toss to the beggars for justice. Instead, he connected the dots and committed himself to building a movement that would shake the foundations of our economic and social order, so that the dream he preached in 1963 might one day be a reality everywhere in the country. Dr. King said that nothing less than “a radical restructuring of society” could possibly ensure justice and dignity for all. And he was right.
On this Martin Luther King Day, we can ask ourselves, has progress been made on some fronts? Yes, of course. But have jobs and freedom truly been won? No, we have more than a long way to go. We need to dream new dreams. And then get to work following the examples of those all around us who are putting their freedom on the line for justice, feeding the hungry, and organizing all those who know what it means to be locked up, locked out, and left behind. It’s our turn to dream. It’s our turn to make America what it must become.
With hope and gratitude,
Associate Professor of Law at Ohio State University, civil rights advocate, and author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
Read the Ware Lecture given by Dr. Martin Luther King to the 1966 General Assembly of the UUA.
Learn the history of the Ware Lecture, which has been delivered annually since 1922, and read the list of previous lecturers.