Beyond the Dream: Michelle Alexander and Ruby Sales – Livestream Tonight at 7p Eastern

On April 4, 1967, against the advice of advisors, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr delivered his famous Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence at The Riverside Church.  Co-written by Dr. Vincent Harding, the speech set out a moral agenda for America to address issues of racial injustice, poverty, and peace.

On April 4, 2017, at 7p Michelle Alexander (The New Jim Crow) and civil rights leader Ruby Sales will speak at a special event commemorating the speech.

You can livestream this event via https://livestream.com/trcnyc and http://www.trcnyc.org/worship/webcast.

Below are a few articles that might be helpful context:

My extended interview with Vincent Harding, who wrote the original draft of Dr. King’s Beyond Vietnam speech: https://sojo.net/sojoshare/Mjh8MTU1MjgxfDE0OTEyNjE0NzB8MTc=

Long Train Running: An interview with civil rights activist Ruby Sales by Rose Marie Berger
https://sojo.net/sojoshare/Mjh8MTg5NDE2fDE0OTEyNjE2MTZ8MjA=

Led Down the Path of Protest and Dissent by Rose Marie Berger

Led Down the Path of Protest and Dissent

Our friends over at Radical Discipleship are hosting a Lenten journey through Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” Speech. Last autumn I was asked to make a contribution and it was posted yesterday.

Led Down the Path of Protest and Dissent
By Rose Marie Berger, a senior associate editor at Sojourners magazine

Now it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read “Vietnam.” It can never be saved so long as it destroys the hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that “America will be” are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land.–Martin Luther King Jr
———–

Between the first and second sentence of this paragraph, Brother Martin fully entered into his “vocation of agony.”

Between these two–the first, where he holds America accountable to the ideals of her founding and the second, where he begins his sharpest theological critique to date–King “sets his face like flint” (Luke 9:51; Isaiah 50:7) toward the center of military empire: Washington, D.C.

The Riverside speech launches the next phase of King’s ministry. Now he will address the mechanism of empire–not just its bitter fruits. Now he will hold America accountable not only to her founding ideals but to God.

In that space between “the present war” and “America’s soul,” an assassin snicked his soft-nosed bullet into a 30-06 rifle.

King names America as “Hope-Destroyer;” Vietnam is what the Prophet Jeremiah calls a “high place of Baal, to burn their sons in the fire for burnt-offerings” (19:5). … [read the rest at Radical Discipleship]

Why Did We Ever Stop Singing?

Dr. Vincent Harding
Dr. Vincent Harding

I’m watching Henry Louis Gates’ series The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross and listening to the music of No Enemies, the music that makes America great. My mentor Dr. Vincent Harding gave encouragement and inspiration to No Enemies to sing the movement into being (see more about them below). Listen to No Enemies music at this SoundCloud link. Why did we ever stop singing?

No Enemies: Call and Response is a series of gatherings initiated by Jamie Laurie and Stephan Brackett of the Flobots. At No Enemies, the public gathers to compose, rehearse, and exchange songs that will later be deployed on the streets. A social experiment in political art-making, the monthly  meetings blend community organizing with choir practice in a celebratory atmosphere sometimes reminiscent of a Baptist church service. Someone might introduce a simple tune that the crowd practices and refines; alternately, small groups will break off to focus on building a song collaboratively, often to address specific issues ranging from transportation inequality and police brutality to gentrification and the oppression of Denver’s undocumented population.

As social activists and musicians, Laurie and Brackett found inspiration in the Southern Freedom Movement and one of its leaders, Dr. Vincent Harding, who mentored the pair before his passing last year. Those who knew Harding use words like “guide,” “sage” and “encourager” to describe him. An activist and scholar in his lifetime, he worked alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and drafted several of his speeches, including “A Time to Break Silence,” in which King officially declared his opposition to the Vietnam War. Harding also contributed to the sit-ins that helped dissolve official segregation. He eschewed the more popular term “civil-rights movement,” because for him the struggle encompassed but also transcended individual civil rights: At stake was the unequivocal and complete freedom of minorities in the South and everywhere — hence the Southern Freedom Movement.

Breaking silence and empowering people to speak out against injustice was Harding’s talent and calling. Laurie and Harding started meeting regularly in 2000, after Laurie sat in on a class that Harding was teaching at the Iliff School of Theology. Laurie describes how, “with a few questions, [Harding] could make you feel very important. Taking an interest in us, he compelled us to be fully the leaders we could be.” For his part, Harding had always stressed the role that music played in the Southern Freedom Movement — he called it a “primary tool” — and he was compelled by the Flobots’ mix of activism and art. Nonetheless, he called on the band’s members to “do more, think more seriously about what music could contribute,” Laurie recalls. At Harding’s memorial last spring at the Iliff School, Laurie, inspired by the memory of his ally and guide, conceived of No Enemies. The idea — to create a series of workshops where groups could cultivate music embedded in social movements themselves — “basically became fully formed” that day, he says.–Luke Leavitt, NO ENEMIES EXPLORES THE POWER OF PROTEST MUSIC

Wendy Clarissa Geiger: Merton & Gandhi – Two Ways of Being Born Again

Friend Wendy Clarissa Geiger in Jacksonville, Fl.
Friend Wendy Clarissa Geiger in Jacksonville, Fl.

I’m honored to be on the receiving end of epistles from Quaker Friend Wendy Clarissa Geiger, peacemaker, poet, planter, and purveyor of historical memory, who roots herself on her family farm near Jacksonville, Florida. Here is her note from yesterday:

… Friday, January 30th, 2015, is the anniversary of M.K. Gandhi’s assassination at the age of 78 in New Delhi, India, in 1948. “He became much more than there was time for him to be” is a line Vincent Harding was very fond of quoting regarding Martin Luther King Jr. Although it is from a Robert Hayden poem about Malcolm X, the line could, also, describe Thomas Merton whose 100th birthday is [January 31]. M.K. Gandhi wrote: “God is Truth.”

For some reason, this 100th birthday of Thomas Merton is celebrated with great silent exuberance within me. I delight in its significance for being rather insignificant in the scheme of things as angels pause, trees bow. And, I bow and pause at the enormousness of one life lived so completely written out on paper that I giggle at the truth of Jim Forest’s words about Merton that appeared in a “Fellowship” magazine quoted in PEACE IS THE WAY, edited by Walter Wink: “Merton was a writer. He could not scratch his nose without writing about it.”

And, so, today’s offering about Truth and Beauty brings a chuckle. “The Philosophers” was written by Thomas Merton in 1940-42 and is published on page 145 of IN THE DARK BEFORE DAWN – NEW SELECTED POEMS OF THOMAS MERTON, with preface by Kathleen Norris and edited by Lynn R. Szabo.

“The Philosophers”
by Thomas Merton

As I lay sleeping in the park,
Buried in the earth,
Waiting for the Easter rains
To drench me in their mirth
And crown my seedtime with some sap and growth,

Into the tunnels of my ears
Two anaesthetic voices came.
Two mandrakes were discussing life
And Truth and Beauty in the other room.

“Body is truth, truth body. Fat is all
We grow on earth, or all we breed to grow.”
Said one mandrake to the other.
Then I heard his brother:
“Beauty is troops, troops beauty. Dead is all
We grow on earth, or all we breed to grow.”

As I lay dreaming in the earth,
Enfolded in my future leaves,
My rest was broken by these mandrakes
Bitterly arguing in their frozen graves.

Vincent Gordon Harding, Freedom Fighter (1931-2014)

Vincent Gordon Harding with Rose Marie Berger, Sojourners, 2010
Vincent Gordon Harding with Rose Marie Berger, Sojourners, 2010

I am deep in the midst of grieving the loss of Vincent Gordon Harding–a friend, mentor, scholar, freedom fighter, mahatma, and now, an ancestor–who died in Philadelphia on May 19 from complications of heart surgery.

All great souls are also flawed–hagiography has no place in authentic mourning. True grief honors what has passed. No longer will I pick up the telephone and hear Vincent’s basso profondo, “Sister Rose Marie? Is it well with your soul?”

More later. Right now, I can only stand at the river, peering into the water in disbelief that it has carried him to the other side.

Roundup of Remembrances:

Vincent Gordon Harding and Rosemarie Freeney Harding,  1950s (Photo courtesy of Mennonite Historical Bulletin)
Vincent Gordon Harding and Rosemarie Freeney Harding, 1950s (Photo courtesy of Mennonite Historical Bulletin)

Vincent Harding Built a New World by Dee Dee Risher

Remembering Vincent Harding, An Enduring Veteran of Hope by Ken Butigan

A gentle giant left us by Catherine Meeks

Vincent Harding by E. Ethelbert Miller

Vincent Harding, Civil Rights Author and Associate of Dr. King, Dies at 82 by Margalit Fox

Vincent Harding, a true hero by Celeste Kennel-Shank

In Memory of Dr. Vincent Harding, a ‘Prophetic Voice for Justice and Vigorous Nonviolence’ by Ben Sutter

MLK speechwriter, civil rights activist Vincent Harding dead by Kate Gibbons

Remembering Historian Vincent Harding, Who Drafted Dr. Martin Luther King’s Anti-Vietnam War Speech by Democracy Now!

Social Activism Loses ‘Peaceful Warrior’ Vincent Harding by Jamal Watson

Rest in Peace, Vincent Harding by Steve Thorngate

Vincent Harding: A light shines in the darkness by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

Vincent Harding Dead: Civil Rights Activist, Speechwriter And Friend Of Martin Luther King Jr., Dies At 82 by Yasmine Hafiz

Vincent Gordon Harding by Black Fire, UVA

Video: Justice Movement Elders In Solidarity With Occupy Movements

If you are between the ages of 55 and 100, I encourage you to watch this video and consider how you can stand with the Occupy Movement. Rev. Jim Lawson, Rev. Phillip Lawson, Rev. Nelson Johnson, Dolores Huerta, Joyce Johnson, Bernice Johnson Reagon, and Dr. Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, Dr. Vincent Harding, send messages of celebration and affirmation as Occupy continues to expand the work of the Beloved Community in our time. If you are between the ages of 12 and 54, I encourage you to watch this video and consider how you can show respect and gratitude to our elders in the movement.

Michelle Alexander: Are You ‘Beyond Race’?

alexander_michelleWhile Stephen “I-Don’t-See-Race” Colbert pointedly jokes about being “colorblind,” Michelle Alexander asks – What in the world do we think we’re doing dragging ugly “Jim Crow” into the Obama Era?

Alexander is the former director of the Racial Justice Project of the ACLU in Northern California. She also clerked for Justice Harry Blackmun on the U.S. Supreme Court. Now she holds a joint appointment with the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University.

She’s  just released her first book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (The New Press, 2010). It’s a blockbuster! Read an excerpt from her post on Tom’s Dispatch below:

Obama’s mere presence in the Oval Office is offered as proof that “the land of the free” has finally made good on its promise of equality. There’s an implicit yet undeniable message embedded in his appearance on the world stage: this is what freedom looks like; this is what democracy can do for you. If you are poor, marginalized, or relegated to an inferior caste, there is hope for you. Trust us. Trust our rules, laws, customs, and wars. You, too, can get to the promised land.

Perhaps greater lies have been told in the past century, but they can be counted on one hand. Racial caste is alive and well in America.

Most people don’t like it when I say this. It makes them angry. In the “era of colorblindness” there’s a nearly fanatical desire to cling to the myth that we as a nation have “moved beyond” race. Here are a few facts that run counter to that triumphant racial narrative:

*There are more African Americans under correctional control today — in prison or jail, on probation or parole — than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.

*As of 2004, more African American men were disenfranchised (due to felon disenfranchisement laws) than in 1870, the year the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified, prohibiting laws that explicitly deny the right to vote on the basis of race.

* A black child born today is less likely to be raised by both parents than a black child born during slavery. The recent disintegration of the African American family is due in large part to the mass imprisonment of black fathers.

*If you take into account prisoners, a large majority of African American men in some urban areas have been labeled felons for life. (In the Chicago area, the figure is nearly 80%.) These men are part of a growing undercaste — not class, caste — permanently relegated, by law, to a second-class status. They can be denied the right to vote, automatically excluded from juries, and legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education, and public benefits, much as their grandparents and great-grandparents were during the Jim Crow era. …

When we pull back the curtain and take a look at what our “colorblind” society creates without affirmative action, we see a familiar social, political, and economic structure — the structure of racial caste.  The entrance into this new caste system can be found at the prison gate.

This is not Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream.  This is not the promised land.  The cyclical rebirth of caste in America is a recurring racial nightmare.

You can read her whole article here. Alexander’s incriminating claim reminds me of this haunting poem by Carl Wendell Himes Jr. written about Martin Luther King. We have so far to go to reach the Beloved Community.

Now That He Is Safely Dead
by Carl Wendell Himes Jr.

Now that he is safely dead,
Let us Praise him.
Now that he is safely dead,
Let us Praise him.
Build monuments to his glory.
Sing Hosannas to his name.

Dead men make such convenient Heroes.
They cannot rise to challenge the images
We would fashion from their Lives.
It is easier to build monuments
Than to make a better world.

So now that he is safely dead,
We, with eased consciences, will
Teach our children that he was a great man,
Knowing that the cause for which he
Lived is still a cause
And the dream for which he died
Is still a dream.

“Now That He Is Safely Dead,” by Carl Wendell Hines Jr. in “Beyond Amnesia: Martin Luther King and the Future of America,” by Vincent G. Harding, Journal of American History, 74 (September 1987, p. 468).

‘We Will Continue to Sing’: Civil Rights Leader Ruby Sales on the Life of Ted Kennedy

ruby-salesIn 2002, I interviewed civil rights leader Ruby Sales for Sojourners magazine (see Long Train Runnin’.) Ruby is one of my heroes in the faith. She’s a courageous, funny, generous, fiercely committed sister in the struggle for justice. She now directs the SpiritHouse Project in Columbus, Georgia.

I was very touched by her reflection on the life of Ted Kennedy, set in the historical context of the fight for justice. She asks: What is it about a White upper class senator’s life that touches me as a Southern Black woman who grew up during segregation and economic exploitation …? Read her answer below. Ruby Sales is My Kinda Christian.

A Generational Narrative by a Black Woman on the Life and Legacy of Senator Edward Kennedy–by Ruby Nell Sales

This morning I awakened to the sound of news reporters telling the world that Ted Kennedy died just as the night turned into morning.  As I heard Senator Edward Kennedy’s voice booming from the television the words “For those whose cares have been our concern… The Hope Still Lives, The Dream Shall Never Die…” when he lost his bid for president in 1980 – my eyes filled with tears that carried with them the hopes and dreams of a generation and community of people of all colors who imagined a new day in America and worked hard to achieve it.   As I thought about this man who lived a life committed to “making a better world,” it touched the grief and celebration that run throughout the lives of my generation who rode and still rides a long train towards justice. In many ways, his life reflects the hills and valleys of our lives… our “victories and our defeats.”

my-kinda-christian-logo

This morning in a very special way, I remembered my young brothers and sisters in the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee and local communities throughout the South who worked unrelentingly to advance democracy during the heat and violence of White supremacy without thinking of money or benefits. We lived and worked from freedom houses that lacked hot water, inside bathrooms and sturdy foundations to protect us from the violence and terror of White night riders. Most of us were young.  We were idealistic.   We were Black, White and Brown. We were determined.  Despite generations of America’s broken promises of democracy, we still passionately believed in the dreams of our mothers and fathers: that America was large enough for everyone regardless of race, sex, class, color or creed.

Believing this, we put our youth on the line to make real their dream.   We were wounded at the core of our young selves under the weight of White lies, White racism and White violence.  America’s bad faith, violence and oppression fractured us into tiny unclaimed bits which lay on the road from Mississippi to Alabama to Washington to New York to Los Angeles.  Yet, like Ted Kennedy, many of us did not die or lose our will to struggle. We kept on believing, working, and struggling despite hearts that were broken by White men who killed our relatives and murdered our friends.  I admit that sometimes we did not always carry our grief well or wisely.  However unlike the Trumpet blowers of White Supremacy and injustice, we harmed ourselves more often than we did others.  Unlike them, love rather than hate stirred our passions and ignited our imaginations.  Even as we watched right wing communities vigorously and intentionally roll back the gains of the Southern Freedom /Civil Rights Movement, like Senator Edward Kennedy, we “kept the faith” and found it over and over again despite the hopeless despair that the right wing communities spread throughout America like a dirty blanket. Because their language and ideals lacked hope, moral authority and meaning, they stole our freedom language. They called death squads in Nicaragua freedom fighters. Even in the midst of this grand theft, we knew like Senator Edward Kennedy that they might steal our language and images, but they could not kill this dream that still burns in us. Continue reading “‘We Will Continue to Sing’: Civil Rights Leader Ruby Sales on the Life of Ted Kennedy”

Vincent Harding on Barack Obama

On election night, Democracy Now! interviewed one of my favorite people, Dr. Vincent Harding. Dr. Harding was a close friend and colleague of Dr. King.

I’ve interviewed Vincent a few times. But, in 2006, I interviewed him about his writing Dr. King’s major antiwar speech, “Beyond Vietnam,” the speech that Dr. King gave a year to the day before he was assassinated. The speech was given at Riverside Church on April 4, 1967. I consider this one of my most important interviews and I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity. You can read that interview here.

Here’s an excerpt from Dr. Harding’s comments to Democracy Now! on election night:

DR. VINCENT HARDING: I am much more deeply involved in the hopes for what we can do to help push him into the place that he needs to go. He is taking a good start at this point by winning this magnificent election, but he is not going to be out there as a messiah by himself. We who believe in freedom are going to have to stand around him, stand beneath him, stand in back of him, and do everything that we can to keep reminding him that what we need is to move towards the very thing that he’s been talking about: creating a more perfect union, creating a more just and peaceable society, creating a more democratic society. So my hopes are very much focused on him, but not on him alone. I see the energy that’s been built up over these two years of campaigns, and I see the possibility that we could gather ourselves together and begin to ask, in a very powerful way, not what should Barack Obama be doing next, but where do we go from here? What is our role as committed, progressive citizens to move to the next stages? …

For me, that question about the contradictions that would stand between seeing Barack as a second coming of Martin and seeing Martin as someone who clearly understood that militarism was not the way towards a solution of humanity’s problems. That’s why I said that those of us who believe in creating a more perfect union can only do it by standing around him, under him, behind him, pushing him to ask questions about what is the role of the military in a democratic society, by encouraging him to see the possibility that maybe he would be a better community-organizer-in-chief than commander-in-chief. Maybe a democracy needs community organizers more than it needs commanders.

.