today in black history

June 23, 2024

Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas was born on this date in 1948 in Pin Point, Georgia.

Mourn…but only for a minute

POSTED: April 04, 2018, 10:00 am

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Weeping endures for a night, but joy cometh in the morning

Across the nation this date evokes sadness as it marks the assassination of the Prince of Peace, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Taken away from us at 39-years old by an assassin’s bullet in Memphis Tennessee 50 years ago today, those of us of age can recall the precise moment when we learned of his death. It is a sobering thought that half a century has passed since this drum major for justice delivered his last speech and seemingly predicted his death that would occur the next day. Though we mourn on this day, our weeping in 2018 keeps King’s legacy in the grave and like a thief in the night robs us of the most powerful heirloom he bequeathed to us – the will to make America honor the words forged on parchment in 1776.

Crying time is over, we must return to the battlefield of justice and finish the work that Dr. King was not allowed to complete.

Over the last 50 years we have seen very little progress in America, and Black Americans remain a disfranchised class. Yes, a fragile Black middle class has emerged but on just about every social and economic index, African-Americans still exist as second-class citizens in the United States. We live conditional lives in which our futures can be altered by a random encounter with a police officer, bias in the workplace and discrimination in the school house. Violence is a daily visitor to many children and too many children are traumatized by the course of a bullet. Black life is still marginalized by poverty and too often determined in courtrooms across the nation. Dreams die in prisons and hopes are buried in cemetery plots.

Life for Black Americans 50 years after the death of Dr. King remains as marginalized as it was in 1968. The imagery of Black success we see in professional sports and entertainment is a false positive. Just as the election of Barack Obama in 2008 as the nation’s first Black president was mistakenly heralded as a sign of a post-racial America. It was simply a minor alteration in the pattern of White hegemony that ultimately triggered the White backlash the election of Donald Trump as president represents. Institutional power still remains in the grips of White men in this nation and most importantly, economic power still evades Blacks. King recognized this in the latter part of his life and it is why he confronted the evils of poverty in America, economic inequality, militarism and global capitalism. He was making a powerful case for a new economic awakening when he was cut down on that balcony of the Lorraine Motel.

In this day and age of social media activism, too many of us are content with scoring points in Facebook debates but refuse to become engaged in actual efforts to bring about systemic reform. We rely on memes and Twitter hashtags as our instruments for social change, and all they represent are timid and safe challenges to structural racism. We must again commit our bodies to fight racism and regain the intellectual high ground in a nation that is drowning in the undertow of ignorance. Our presence must be felt again in public demonstrations, in acts of civil disobedience, in the disruption of the status quo and in every forum in which public policies are discussed and considered for implementation. It is time to shed the complacency and hopelessness that has consumed us since 1968.

One of the truly positive developments over the last several years has been the emergence of youth activism. Though rooted in tragedy, the Black Lives Matter and March for Our Lives movements represent a new energy and a return to a street-level engagement on matters of social justice. Neither movement needs to be perfect, as certainly the civil rights movement was not, they just simply have to be consistent and as inclusive as possible, and adaptive. One of the myths concerning King is that he was a singular leader who possessed all the answers. He was not and he did not. Dr. King was, however, a prophetic voice, who, unlike other leaders, could marry the intellectual justification for social and economic change in America with the necessity to engage in non-violent civil disobedience to affect change.

If we are truly committed to nation-building, and equally committed to the legacy of Dr. King, the time is now to enter the battlefield for justice without hesitation or fear, and with the determination to face whatever obstacles are placed in our path. That is what we owe Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Walter Fields is Executive Editor of

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