MLK’s Last Sunday Sermon: The Case for Reparations
The Kind of Revolution That Martin Luther King Jr. Envisioned
By Esau McCaulley
NYT Opinion, 15 January 2023
“In 1968, four days before he was shot on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his last Sunday sermon at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. It was entitled, “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” and although King doesn’t say the word “woke,” he uses the concept as it was understood by many Black folks then, well before the term was co-opted by the political right to refer to any left-leaning policy that it wanted to condemn.”
“King often focused on the financial impacts of white supremacy and the need for America to make amends for its exploitation of Black labor. In the “awake” sermon, King gave a basic and compelling case for reparations based on the “debt” this country owed its Black citizens. He said:
There are those who still feel that if the Negro is to rise out of poverty, if the Negro is to rise out of slum conditions, if he is to rise out of discrimination and segregation, he must do it all by himself … But they never stop to realize the debt that they owe a people who were kept in slavery 244 years.
In 1863 the Negro was told that he was free as a result of the Emancipation Proclamation being signed by Abraham Lincoln. But he was not given any land to make that freedom meaningful. It was something like keeping a person in prison for a number of years and suddenly, suddenly discovering that that person is not guilty of the crime for which he was convicted. And … you don’t give him any money to get some clothes to put on his back or to get on his feet again in life.
For King, waking up is not simply understanding that racism is bad; it is acknowledging that racism created generational wealth for white Americans and robbed Black Americans of the same economic boost. The racial wealth gap King highlighted in his sermon not only persists, but, according to some studies, is basically the same as it was in 1968.
In his sermon, King pointed out that at the same time that this country didn’t offer any assistance to Black people, it was giving away millions of acres of land in the West and the Midwest to whites.
But not only did it give the land, it built land-grant colleges to teach them how to farm. Not only that, it provided county agents to further their expertise in farming; not only that, as the years unfolded it provided low interest rates so that they could mechanize their farms. And to this day thousands of these very persons are receiving millions of dollars in federal subsidies every year not to farm….”
MLK on March 31, 1968 at the National Cathedral:
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01/16/2023 @ 10:15 am
Great work Ron
01/22/2023 @ 11:56 am
It makes no sense to withhold reparations from the Black population while blaming them for the result of not having reparations. Nor does it make sense to deny the existence of continued functional racism while blaming the Black population for not advancing financially. Bootstrapping is victim blaming and, by the way, the Horatio Alger stories weren’t about bootstrapping – they featured help from wealthy people.
By the way, when it comes to discrimination it turns out Blacks may be far from alone. Reading this was very surprising:
01/22/2023 @ 6:22 pm
I would argue that bigotry and bias against Jews in the hiring process and workplace is further evidence of racially motivated bias and discrimination albeit on significantly different grounds…
Also, your citation should be taken with a grain of salt:
“When asked why they are less likely to move forward with Jewish applicants, the top reasons include Jews have too much power and control (38%), claim to be the ‘chosen people’ (38%), and have too much wealth (35%).
The survey uses a convenience sampling method, and therefore, is not necessarily generalizable to the general population of U.S. hiring managers and recruiters.”
That being said, any concerns you have re antisemitism in hiring and the workplace are not unwarranted.
01/23/2023 @ 1:01 am
I didn’t look closely at the methodology and probably should have.
I think you’re probably right about this being another manifestation of that which is behind racially motivated bias. They’re both based on a series of myths. There are differences, though. There’s one respect in which this has a dimension racism doesn’t: This is the only politically correct bigotry. There is, if these reasons are to be taken at face value, which at this point I’m prepared to do but may be presented with reasons down the road to change my mind, a respect in which racism has a dimension this version of antisemitism doesn’t: the reasons given are culturally and religiously driven rather than genetically driven.
But they’re still all based on stereotypes rather than facts. Too much power assumes, as is often assumed about us, that we’re somehow centralized. A whole lot of stereotypes about us involve conspiracy theories. And the whole Chosen People thing is badly misunderstood and, given our contrasting religious beliefs, they have a lot of nerve accusing us of something they’re far more guilty of. Being chosen happened before other God-worshipping people existed. More importantly, being chosen comes with no perks. It’s just the privilege of the work. We don’t believe that you have to belong to our religion to get into Heaven and most of their doctrines say one has to be Christian to get into Heaven. That’s not universal, particularly since some doctrine changes in the Catholic Church.
But I shouldn’t expect rationality from bigotry. In that respect I’m wasting time.