As I explore issues facing African-Americans in our country, I sporadically listen to some of the conservative radio talk shows to hear their views. On one of the stations, I noticed that whenever African-Americans call-in and raise questions or offer comments about the racial inequalities that still exist in our country, the host consistently asked the callers: “Do you like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.?” and “Do you agree with him that we should be ‘judged by the content of character and not by the color of skin?’” The talk show host would then go on to tell the caller and the rest of his audience that this is the legacy of Dr. King.
This limited view of Dr. King’s legacy is seriously distorted and, dare I say, comes very close to mocking Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, from which the content-of-our-character quote is taken.
By far, Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered on August 28, 1963, was one of the most moving and inspiring in history. And even today it offers deep insight to the heart, spirit, and intellect of one of the greatest servant-leaders (if not the greatest) this country has ever produced. While, I could point to the many statements and positions from the speech that would discredit the conservative radio talk-show host’s belief that the content-of-our-character component is the primary focus of Dr. King’s legacy, instead I’d like to point to Dr. King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech as the basis for my position that it is not.
In the “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, delivered on April 3, 1968 in a Masonic Temple in Memphis, Dr. King focused emphatically on economic issues. Five long years had passed from the day the iconic “I Have a Dream” speech was given on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. And most would agree that Dr. King grew into a more enlightened leader during that five year period and was even more aware of how African-Americans needed to establish a stronger economic base—despite the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The idea that Dr. King’s legacy is that blacks develop a stronger economic base is cited by many discerning Americans as the true legacy of Dr. King. Consider the statements he made in “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”, delivered on the eve of his assassination:
- “…It’s all right to talk about ‘long white robes over yonder,’ in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits, and dresses, and shoes to wear down here. God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can’t eat three square meals a day…”
- “…Now the other thing we’ll have to do is this: Always anchor our external direct action with the power of economic withdrawal. Now, we are poor people, individually, we are poor when you compare us with white society in America. We are poor. Never stop and forget that collectively, that means all of us together, collectively we are richer than all the nations in the world, with the exception of nine. Did you ever think about that? …the Negro collectively is richer than most nations of the world. We have an annual income of more than thirty billion dollars a year…Did you know that? That’s power right there, if we know how to pool it…”
- “…But not only that, we’ve got to strengthen black institutions. I call upon you to take your money out of the banks downtown and deposit your money in …”
- “…(through boycotts) we must kind of redistribute the pain.”
- “…Now these are some practical things we can do. We begin the process of building a greater economic base. And at the same time, we are putting pressure where it really hurts. I ask you to follow through here….”
Not once did I hear that conservative radio host address the issues raised by African-American callers concerning the pervasive and gross inequalities between blacks and whites in this country. Typically, their questions and comments were surrounding such topics as:
- The unemployment rate for African Americans remains twice that of whites (the same since 1975).
- The median net worth—total assets minus total debt—for blacks is almost 70 times less than for whites ($1,700 vs. $116,800).
- African Americans representing 50 percent of the U.S. prison population, but only 13 percent of the national population.
- An almost non-existent representation of African-Americans in media ownership.
- And African Americans accounting for only 0.4 of 1 percent of America’s total business revenues. (Note: when you consider African Americans account for 13% of the U.S. population, African-American businesses should be producing $13 out of every $100 of this country’s business revenues. Sadly, black business doesn’t even account for .50 out of every $100 of this country’s business revenues.)
The content-of-our-character rhetoric exposed by the conservative radio host didn’t address any of these issues. Rather, his inappropriate and one-size-fits-all use of the quote always appeared to me as a veiled attempt at hypnotizing and shaming his black callers by pointing to it as the center of Dr. King’s legacy to shut them up about the real issues they wanted to discuss. However, from this list and from the quotes taken from “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”, we can clearly see that the real legacy of Dr. King—to ensure that African-Americans developed a stronger economic base in this country—is still very relevant.
FAMDO wholeheartedly embraces the true legacy of Dr. King and strives to empower African-American communities through the influence of black business owners and other role models, through the use of technology, and through give-back donations from FAMDO’s after-tax profits. To learn more about us and to support this grass-roots empowerment movement, log on to www.famdo.com.