On May 17, 1957, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of the speakers at a Prayer Pilgrimage held at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. King demanded that Congress pass legislation ensuring the right of African Americans to vote. He condemned Democrats for “capitulating to the prejudices and undemocratic practices of the southern Dixiecrats” and Republicans for “capitulating to the blatant hypocrisy of right wing, reactionary northerners.” In typical King linguistic poetry, he charged “These men so often have a high blood pressure of words and an anemia of deeds.”
With voting rights under attack today in Republican controlled state legislatures, a national voting rights bill stalled in the U.S. Senate, and threats being made against American democracy, King’s words still ring true today. For a Martin Luther King Day lesson, students can read excerpts from his 1957 speech on the importance of voting rights and discuss these questions. There is an audio recording of the speech.
(1) In section A, why does Dr. King believe securing voting rights is crucial for achieving other civil rights goals?
(2) In section B, why does Dr. King place blame on both the Democrats and Republicans?
(3) As a minister, Dr. King often makes religious analogies in his speeches and writings. He also believes in conveying a message of hope. How did Dr. King use a biblical reference in Section E of this speech to suggest hope for the future?
(4) In section D, Dr. King disparages people who claim to be liberal but are not committed to the goals of liberalism like racial justice. In your opinion, is this still a problem today? Explain.
(5) Dr. King argues in section C that the “civil rights issue is not an ephemeral, evanescent domestic issue that can be kicked about by reactionary guardians of the status quo.” In your opinion, what civil rights issues are paramount in the United States today? Why do you select these issues?
A. “All types of conniving methods are still being used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters. The denial of this sacred right is a tragic betrayal of the highest mandates of our democratic tradition. And so our most urgent request to the president of the United States and every member of Congress is to give us the right to vote. Give us the ballot, and we will no longer have to worry the federal government about our basic rights. Give us the ballot, and we will no longer plead to the federal government for passage of an anti-lynching law; we will by the power of our vote write the law on the statute books of the South and bring an end to the dastardly acts of the hooded perpetrators of violence. Give us the ballot, and we will transform the salient misdeeds of bloodthirsty mobs into the calculated good deeds of orderly citizens.”
B. “In this juncture of our nation’s history, there is an urgent need for dedicated and courageous leadership. If we are to solve the problems ahead and make racial justice a reality, this leadership must be fourfold. First, there is need for strong, aggressive leadership from the federal government . . . This dearth of positive leadership from the federal government is not confined to one particular political party. Both political parties have betrayed the cause of justice. The Democrats have betrayed it by capitulating to the prejudices and undemocratic practices of the southern Dixiecrats. The Republicans have betrayed it by capitulating to the blatant hypocrisy of right wing, reactionary northerners. These men so often have a high blood pressure of words and an anemia of deeds.”
C. “In the midst of these prevailing conditions, we come to Washington today pleading with the president and members of Congress to provide a strong, moral, and courageous leadership for a situation that cannot permanently be evaded. We come humbly to say to the men in the forefront of our government that the civil rights issue is not an ephemeral, evanescent domestic issue that can be kicked about by reactionary guardians of the status quo; it is rather an eternal moral issue which may well determine the destiny of our nation . . . The hour is late. The clock of destiny is ticking out. We must act now, before it is too late.”
D. “There is a dire need today for a liberalism which is truly liberal. What we are witnessing today in so many northern communities is a sort of quasi-liberalism which is based on the principle of looking sympathetically at all sides. It is a liberalism so bent on seeing all sides, that it fails to become committed to either side. It is a liberalism that is so objectively analytical that it is not subjectively committed. It is a liberalism which is neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm. We call for a liberalism from the North which will be thoroughly committed to the ideal of racial justice and will not be deterred by the propaganda and subtle words of those who say: ‘Slow up for a while; you’re pushing too fast.’”
E. “I conclude by saying that each of us must keep faith in the future. Let us not despair. Let us realize that as we struggle for justice and freedom, we have cosmic companionship . . . Sometimes it gets hard, but it is always difficult to get out of Egypt, for the Red Sea always stands before you with discouraging dimensions. And even after you’ve crossed the Red Sea, you have to move through a wilderness with prodigious hilltops of evil and gigantic mountains of opposition. But I say to you this afternoon: Keep moving. Let nothing slow you up.”
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Media Watch January 10, 2022 on Manhattan Neighborhood Network
Hosts Raymond Peterson and Eric V Tait, Jr. with Guest Alan Singer
a) Media failure to seriously/comprehensively cover the assault on democracy/descent into authoritarianism and total voter-suppression/election stealing by what was once the Republican Party but is now totally unrecognizable;
b) The 2020 Election “Big Lie” Republican propaganda machine (including the Fox ’Faux News’ Commentator Tucker Carlson) and how it’s now morphed to encompass anti-mask/anti-vax/anti-CRT School-board movements as the path to re-taking political control in Washington, and dominating local elections;
c) The 6 January Coup attempt Anniversary, the Congressional Probe, and Atty Gen Merrick Garland’s DOJ investigation-arrest-trial record thus far;
d) What if anything can Chuck Schumer and the Democrats do to pass voter protection laws nationally with a Senate that has Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema blocking their path?