Remarks from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Event
J. Timothy Cloyd, Ph.D.
January 17, 2007
Thank you, Rev. Lee Tyus, James Tyus, and Kesha Baoua
Wonderful message of hope – Rev. Brown, thank you for reminding us of the voice and passion of Dr. King.
Tonight we have come together as a community to celebrate the life and example of Martin Luther King, Jr. We have celebrated and held up his commitment to racial equity, to justice and decency for every human being. We have celebrated his dedication to non-violence. We have recognized the ultimate price he paid for his stand for equality and justice for African-American citizens in this nation.
But we also have come here tonight as a college community in recognition of the fact that we as a nation—in every village, town, and city across this country—we have not reached the sunlit mountaintop of racial justice and brotherhood that was Dr. King’s vision!
Dr. King’s vision was grounded in the architecture of our republic—the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence—but his vision was ultimately guided by his faith. He believed that ‘the glory of the Lord,’ as he said, “would be revealed and that we would see that glory in the land of the living.”
Only that faith and that hope allowed Dr. King to say, “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.” Through that faith he called on all Americans “to conduct the struggle for racial justice and equality on the high plane of dignity and discipline.” Through that faith, Dr. King called on all of us to use non-violent action against injustice, not physical violence,—to use soul force, as Dr. King called it!
Have we reached the sunlit mountaintop of racial justice and brotherhood? Have we reached the sunlit mountaintop? Are we satisfied? When will we be satisfied? Are we satisfied with the way Latinos, Indians, Arabs, African-Americans, Jews, Muslims, and the poor—white and black—are treated in many contexts and situations in this country?
What is the calling of this college—Hendrix College—and this community in this continuing struggle? Have we reached the sunlit mountaintop of racial justice and brotherhood and sisterhood?
When I was young, living in New Mexico, I remember seeing signs on stores that said “No dogs and no Indians.” I did not understand!
When I was young, visiting my extended family in Tennessee, I remember seeing signs that said “Whites only.” I did not understand!
When I was young, we were visiting family in Tennessee in 1968 when Dr. King was assassinated, and I remember the anguish and pain. I did not understand!
A day or two after he was assassinated, I remember going with my grandmother to the store in Greenbrier, Tennessee. There were men in white robes and hoods lined up and down the streets. They knocked on our car window and said, ‘Give money to the Klan.” I did not understand!
My grandmother, who always spoke her mind, rolled down the window of the car. She called one of the men by his name and said, “You should be ashamed of yourself.” His response was to shout things at my grandmother. He cussed and spit on our car. She just smiled. And I did not understand. But she talked to me about racism and how these people hated people who were other than themselves. They hated because of the color of a person’s skin or because of a person’s religion. They hated because they had been taught to hate.
My ancestors came to this country just before 1700. They settled in the American South. Thus my ancestors have had a long history of experience with slavery and racism. In 1860 some of them fought to preserve slavery and others fought to end slavery.
The American South has had hundreds of years of sorrow combined with moments of bright shining light. We have had a complex relationship between blacks and whites stretching back in this new world for 500 years. In the south we have had the horror and injustice of slavery, a great bloody war, the repression of African-Americans though Jim Crow and segregation, we have experienced as well the great birth of the Civil Rights movement. Out of this river of blood and sorrow, the American South and this country gave birth to voices like Martin Luther King, Jr. and many others who have not only changed our country, but they have changed the world.
Race relations in the American South and in this country have never been easy. The relationship has always been complex – not simple. Racism has cut across families and has plagued both the white community and the community of people of color.
If you stop to think about it we had 464 years of slavery and injustice in the new world before we had the full movement for racial equality in the Civil Rights Act. Out of the South, out of all of this pain and sorrow in our collective soul, the voices of racial equality and tolerance have risen up. But we are still infants.
Have we reached the sunlit mountaintop of racial injustice?
I have come to learn the sad fact of the long human legacy of hate, of bigotry, and of racism. I have come to understand the sad fact of our fallen nature. But I do not accept this state of affairs. I am not satisfied! Are you satisfied?
We have, black and white, in the South—we have made progress. We should acknowledge and celebrate that progress. Dr. King would be happy I think, but he would not be satisfied. Have we reached the sunlit mountaintop of racial justice and brotherhood? Are we satisfied?
What are we doing in our daily lives, in our hearts, in the quiet of our thoughts to make progress to the mountaintop? What do we honestly anticipate from each other? What assumptions do we make every day about people whose race or whose faith is different than our own?
Are we satisfied? Should we be satisfied? When should we be satisfied?
As Dr. Martin Luther King said—“No. No, we are not satisfied, and we should not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream! We should not be satisfied until all of God’s children are able to sing with new meaning:”
“My country ‘tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride,
From every mountainside, let freedom ring!”
We should not be satisfied until freedom rings everywhere—not just in Conway, in Arkansas, in the South, or in the United States, but everywhere. We should not be satisfied until justice, love, and kindness reigns in our community and in our hearts!
We should not be satisfied until, as King said, “all of God’s children, black and white, Jew and Gentile, Protestant and Catholic, are able to join hands and sing—with new meaning—in a new dawn—on the sunlit mountain top—the words of the old Negro spiritual:”
“Free at last! Free at last!
Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
This community has a special role in that destiny. That is our hope, this is our calling, and this is our ongoing personal and communal challenge. Do not be satisfied! Do not be satisfied! Stand up for justice and dignity for all people living in oppression. Make your voices heard. Because as Dr. King said, “We cannot do this alone”— We must achieve this destiny together hand in hand.