MLK and the Fierce Urgency of Now!
Tanzina: You're listening to a special presentation of The Takeaway on Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2021. I'm Tanzina Vega and it's good to have you with us. This year marks the 15th anniversary of WNYC's annual celebration of the civil rights icon. Usually, my colleagues, Jami Floyd and Brian Lehrer would be joined on a stage at the world-famous Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York City by activists, scholars, and artists exploring themes relative to civil rights, historic and present day, but with the global pandemic raging on, the celebration is virtual this year, and I'm honored to join the celebration alongside Jami and Brian, who you'll hear from in just a bit.
We focus this year on a theme Dr. King would revisit throughout the last few years of his life, the "fierce urgency of now." He would first reference the theme during his iconic I have A Dream Speech, and again later in his 1964 publication, Why We Can't Wait, and then speaking at New York's Riverside Church in 1967. On the Mall in Washington, DC, Dr. King would assert, "We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now.
There is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy." Dr. King saw racial and social injustice as existential threats to democracy and the nation and his movement made great strides against them. Still, as this past year of reckoning continues to show us, King's dream remains largely deferred.
In late December of 2020, I sat down with congressman and majority whip, James Clyburn. Clyburn's endorsement of President-elect Joe Biden during the Democratic primaries was seen as a key turning point in the race, and this year, he criticized progressive calls to defund the police. To start our wide-ranging conversation, I asked him for some historical context for his reaction to the slogan, looking to MLK and the late John Lewis.
Congressman Clyburn: Well, John and I were both what you might call a pacifist. John was a real pacifist and I was never as far or as deep into it as John was, but I did believe in the practical application of what we were doing. Although I did not mind going to jail, did not mind challenging the laws, "Burn baby, burn" became a mantra that I could not abide that John Lewis could not abide. Now, it's back up in [unintelligible 00:02:55], South Carolina. Nobody is paying much attention to me, John was down in Atlanta which was the center of the activities which is where the media people were. I was in the state where the head of the newspaper and the governor then had gotten together earlier and decided they were going to ignore this movement and just pretend we didn't exist.
We were being subjected to what I call benign neglect. Within Atlanta, that's where everybody's attention was focused. They asked at John, John was chair of SNCC, and he's the chair of directing the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. In 1965, John was the leader of that march of 600 people, but John was the leader. That was Bloody Sunday if I remember correctly, March 7th, 1960. As a result of the Bloody Sunday, the president of the United States Lyndon Baines Johnson was moved to act.
He went to Congress and asked Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act. A Voting Rights Act which he did not want to really pass, but he was pushed into it by King and John Lewis because we'd just gotten the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Johnson thought that was enough for a while, but after Bloody Sunday, he reacted, and on August 6, 1965, he signed the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Interestingly enough, that was to me one of the most effective piece of legislation ever. John Lewis was ousted as chairman of SNCC within a year after that. He was ousted because he refused to adopt "Burn baby, burn" as a mantra. He refused to be a part of that. That was lawlessness to him and to me as well.
Tanzina: Congressman, you mentioned the slogan "Burn baby, burn" being one of the dividing points [inaudible 00:05:20] in the Civil Rights Movement at the time in the 1960s. One of the things that you're seeing today, particularly within the Democratic Party, is a similar, I think, division. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this between more progressive Democrats and more moderate Democrats, such as yourself. In particular, the issue here is a slogan once again, this time it's "Defund the police" and this has invigorated, if you will, the progressive left. Some people are full abolitionists, want the police completely disbanded.
Other people say they want the slogan means to take funding that was meant for police departments, minimize that funding and reappropriate that for social services. Congressman, do you disagree with the slogan or the messaging or the overall goals within that movement? With the understanding that there are some people who want to completely abolish policing and others who want to minimize funding for policing.
Congressman Clyburn: How could I possibly disagree with the goals? I grew up in the South. I grew up having to really not share a sidewalk with a white person. When I was a teenager, I looked down the barrel of a gun, held by a guy who during my freshman year of college killed another Black guy. I've been through that. Nobody can tell me that they are the more progressive organizations' than I am.
To say there's a guy who met his wife in jail for disobeying unjust laws is not progressive, is not to be in touch with reality, but that does not mean that I will embrace things that I know will undercut of what we're trying to do. I have spoken out against the slogan "Defund the police." It is the slogan that I disagree with. I want to see the militarization of police departments.
I'm a co-author of the bill pushed by Hank Johnson of Georgia to demilitarize police forces. I've been on that bill a long time before I ever heard the term before the term was ever created of defund the police. We were trying to do it with legislation, so why would you say that I'm against the activities or the goals? I'm all for it, but I also know what "Burn baby, burn" did to us in 1960. What it did to John Lewis. John Lewis had to leave Georgia. He went up to New York and stayed up in New York for a year. I know what those soundbites did. 10 and 15 second sound bites today misrepresented on a TV screen can kill campaigns.
Tanzina: There are many debates among Democrats about how far Democrats should go in reaching across the aisle. Particularly in the past four years, the deep divisions that we've seen get even deeper across the political spectrum. Under Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump, your Republican colleagues have moved even further to the right. I think doing things that many Americans have considered pretty surprising, pretty shocking. Are you willing to work with the GOP on issues like policing reform or other issues that progressive Democrats might, I don't know if they're less inclined to work with the GOP, but given the past four years, how willing does the Democratic Party have to be to work with the GOP?
Congressman Clyburn: Well, let me take you back a little bit. My wife always said that she was very pleased that our first child was a girl and not a boy because we made a deal that if it were a boy, the name would be Jay Everett Clyburn in honor of Jay Everett Dirksen, who was a Republican Senator from Illinois. But for Jay Everett Dirksen, we never would have gotten the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the Voting Rights Act of 1965 because Lyndon Johnson reached out across the aisle and recruited him to the course, and he had to have him to get that legislation. Yes, there are Republicans that you can reach across the aisle and work with. What's wrong with reaching across the aisle and trying to get legislation that will have bipartisan support, I just think that that's the way you run the country. No one entity gets everything they want, all of the time. If you ask people to consider your views, you ought to be willing to consider theirs as well and maybe we can find a common ground. That's what we've got to do. We can't just win legislative fights, we've got to bring this country back together, we got to continue this pursuit of a more perfect union. You do that by seeking to find common ground.
Tanzina: [unintelligible 00:11:09] been a very progressive part of the Democratic Party now we call them, colloquially, the squad. There are others who have come in and want to make their mark, do you suspect that the Democratic Party will be able to move forward as a unit in the next four years, at least under the Biden ministration or do you see there being fissures similar to what happened between SNCC and other civil rights groups that you experienced and described at the top of the conversation?
Congressman Clyburn: There would always be conflict, and there should be. No one person, no one group has got all the answers. I think Martin Luther King, Jr. called it creative tension. We need to have creative tension. That's how I stay married to the same person for 58 years, a lot of creative tension.
Tanzina: On that note, I think that's wonderful [unintelligible 00:12:04] for politics and for personal life. House Majority Whip, James Clyburn, is a democrat representing South Carolina's sixth congressional district. Congressman Clyburn, thank you so much for joining us.
Congressman Clyburn: Thanks for having me.
Tanzina: My WNYC colleagues, Brian Lehrer and Jami Floyd recently sat with New York State Attorney General Letitia James, to talk about the legacy of the last four Attorney Generals when it comes to civil rights. Attorney General James pulled no punches on this. Let's take a listen. Jami Floyd leads us off.
Jami: Reflect if you would on the legacy and impact of Attorney General Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, who shared that post under President Obama then, of course, Jeff Sessions, and William Barr under President Trump. Did Trump's people take us as far backwards as some may feel or did they just talk like they wanted to? Did the attorney general who preceded them, Holder and Lynch, give us such a firm footing that perhaps the damage wasn't as significant as many may feel?
Letitia: The two attorney generals that you cited, they served as the personal attorney for the president of the United States, when the role is for an independent attorney general to serve the interests of Americans as a whole. It's unfortunate that they ignored their role in history, voting rights, civil rights, housing discrimination, and the list goes on. It's unfortunate that over the last four years, the Department of Justice has been missing in action and that it's really been up to attorneys general, all across this nation, but particularly Democratic attorney generals, to stand up for our institutions, to stand up for democracy, to stand up for the rights of their respective states.
There were times that we came together to stand up and to challenge DOJ on a wide range of issues. I'm proud to say that in all the cases that we have filed and that I have led along with some of my colleagues, we have won 85% of our cases. The institutions that have remained whole during this entire debacle, during the time of chaos and confusion in our nation has been the judicial branch of our government.
It's important that individuals understand we stood up on behalf of the rights of immigrants, stood up on behalf of voting rights, stood up on behalf of housing discrimination in our individual states, stood up on behalf of attempts by this administration, the Trump administration to trespass on the rights of states. They, Attorney General Barr and Jeff Sessions, no comparison to my mentor Loretta Lynch, and Eric Holder, by no means no comparison, it's been an embarrassment.
Brian: As Joe Biden takes office and says he wants to restore independence to the Justice Department after it appeared to be politicized under President Trump, is that compatible with also having an agenda of using the Justice Department to advance civil rights?
Letitia: Yes, civil rights is just one aspect of the national attorney general who should serve as an independent person, appointed official from that of the president of these United States. Civil rights and voting rights, and human rights, and housing rights, and all of the other rights that are associated and that are part of our constitution, obviously, the Biden/Harris administration will restore, they will restore dignity to the Department of Justice.
Brian: Can I get a thought from you about the legacy of Dr. King's and celebrating Dr. King and paying his legacy forward is the reason for this event. He was sometimes known to tussle with US Attorney General, Robert Kennedy back in the day, even though Kennedy is remembered as a progressive, it wasn't always easy between him and Dr. King, I wonder if that's a history that you're aware of and whether it's an inspiration to you in any way, either as an activist in a former phase of your life or as attorney general yourself today?
Letitia: Voting rights is a major issue in our country. As all eyes are on Georgia these days, voter suppression is real, voter intimidation is real. What we need to do, the Justice Department, as well as President-elect Biden and Vice President Harris, and all state attorneys general is get behind the idea that more individuals should be exercising that franchise, that basic and elementary right, which is part of our democracy and key to our democracy. There are efforts afoot, particularly given this election, that I am sure that there are some states which will attempt to roll back all of the progress that we have made, roll back the progress on early voting on absentee ballots, et cetera.
Dr. King really talked about the silence of good men, particularly at a time when we're having so much conversations and on progress in this nation, in times when we are dealing with so much division, at a time when we are dealing with a number of disparities. At a time when we are seeing racial unrest and racial reckoning. It's really good individuals that should step forward with ideas and raising their voice, which is why I was honored and privileged to defend the rights of young people to march in the streets in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd. Those people marched in the spirit of Dr. King.
Tanzina: New York State Attorney General, Letitia James, there speaking with WNYC's Jami Floyd and Brian Lehrer. [music] Dr. King wrote in 1964s Why We Can't Wait, "Among the many vital jobs to be done, the nation must not only radically readjust its attitude toward the Negro in the compelling present, but must incorporate in its planning some compensatory consideration for the handicaps he has inherited from the past."
Well, part of compensatory consideration or reparations for our nation's racist past would need to take into account environmental, social, and economic injustices that have forced people of color to endure worse health outcomes than their white peers in this country. Our next two guests are professionals examining health inequity, as well as how we can take charge of our health amid the stress, anxiety, and fear brought on by the pandemic.
First WNYC's Brian Lehrer asks Dr. Uché Blackstock about the impact of federal policy on the health of African Americans today. Dr. Blackstock is the Yahoo News medical contributor and founder and CEO of advancing health equity.
Brian: In 1966 Dr. King said, and I'm going to read this, we are concerned about the constant use of federal funds to support this most notorious expression of segregation. Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhuman because it often results in physical death." Now that was in 1966, so it was two years after the civil rights act passed, meaning it was after Jim Crow was officially outlawed. I'm just curious if you have an idea of what he was referring to then, and if you want to bring that statement forward to today in terms of federal healthcare fund supporting segregated and unequal healthcare at this time.
Uché: It's interesting because a lot of time in the talks and trainings I do with my organization, I talk about how federal policies like redlining, other aspects of the new deal, the GI bill has led to significant residential segregation and a profound racial wealth gap that actually influences the health status of communities. I think it's so hard for people to make that connection, but when we actually look at neighborhoods that were redlined in the 1930s, they correspond with the same neighborhoods today that have the worst infant mortality rates, the worst maternal mortality rates and the shortest life expectancy.
What I think that speaks to is how the impact of the federal policies on the health of communities and how institutionalized racism can be. I will say that MLK was clairvoyant. We're still seeing the repercussions of those same policies today. Actually, today we're seeing the fact that we don't have a single-payer universal healthcare system. That is one of the factors contributing to the inequities that we see today. I think that in order to address those inequities, we need federal policies to correct them.
Brian: Dr. Uché Blackstock is the Yahoo News medical contributor and founder and CEO of advancing health equity. As the Coronavirus pandemic continues to reveal deep health disparities in this country, many are looking for new ways to care for their mental and spiritual health in this time. For some, that's meant turning to Eastern health modalities. My colleague, Jami Floyd recently spoke about all this with Dr. Jeff Gardere, a mental health expert and herbalist and natural health practitioner, Queen Afua. Here's Jami.
Jami: We're bombarded by messages that are around safety protocols involving COVID-19, but not so much when it comes to health protocols. We're going to spend some time now talking about mind, body, and spirit. Let's start with you, Dr. Gardere. Why is mental health a priority during this pandemic, this health crisis? How do we fortify our minds?
Dr. Jeff: Well, I have to tell you that a June 2020 survey was done by the CDC of close to 5,500 US adults and they found that 40.9% of the respondents actually had an adverse mental or behavioral health condition. This is serious. We're talking about depression, anxiety, PTSD, possibly substance abuse. We are facing, Jami, a mental health tsunami. Most importantly, we could take it right from the CDC, they agree with me as well as many clinicians breathing is important and I know Queen Afua can address that too. Focus on how you feel at the moment. Take breaks. Look at healthy eating, exercise, meditation, yoga, and prayer. Reach out and stay connected online with your friends and family and form informal support groups. If you need help for heaven's sake, get online, find a therapist, we are doing telehealth and doing it in just volumes right now.
Jami: Queen Afua, what is innate immunity as you write about it, and how can that concept be used as a line of defense against the Coronavirus or other diseases?
Queen: The immune system is there to protect us to guard us against the microbes and the toxins in the environment. Whenever there's toxicity in the environment, our immunecomes up and stops it from penetrating. I look at it based on the elements. Our bodies are made up of four primary elements and those elements are in nature. What I have observed, when one's elementals, air, lungs, breath, fire, blood is strong and healthy, water your circulatory system, lymphatic system is strong and vibrant, which is connected to your emotional self and your relationships. Then your earth, if you're fortified with proper nutrition from the plants, from the fruits, from the vegetables, from the whole grains. Air, fire, water, earth, if those are filled with nutrition consistently, as a way of life, then your natural immune system is up for the battlefield.
Jami: I want to ask you both lastly for your perspective on why we're not approaching this global pandemic from a more global perspective inclusive of holistic healing modalities.
Jeff: We know that what's happened with the federal leadership in the past four years has in some ways undermined science and by withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, by breaking with the world health organization, by in many ways taking over the centers for disease control and the FDA and politicizing those two places, those two institutions. What we found is that people are not getting or were not getting the proper information [unintelligible 00:26:05] to protect themselves from this virus.
Tanzina: Dr. Jeff Gardere is a psychologist and Queen Afua is a spiritual teacher, holistic health practitioner, and bestselling author. Welcome back to The Takeaway. We're reflecting this hour on Dr. King's message about the fierce urgency of now. Next up 1619 creator Nikole Hannah Jones tells WNYC's Jami Floyd how promises made during reconstruction motivated Dr. King's civil rights movement.
Nikole: When we think about the civil rights movement, what was the civil rights movement trying to do? What was Dr. King trying to do? Dr. King was really trying to enforce and lead to the enforcement of the reconstruction amendments, the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments. After slavery, Black Americans were promised equal protection before the law. We were promised full citizenship in this country. We were promised the right to vote.
Yet a hundred years after the end of the civil war, Black Americans we're having to fight, we're dying. We're being assassinated. We're marching in order to really fulfill our constitutional rights. That's what Dr. King was doing. When we think about that throughline as you were saying, I'm 44 years old. I was born in 1976 and just a decade before I was born, it was legal to discriminate against me and everyone like me because I descended from American slavery.
We, in our mind somehow see images of black and white photos and think that this was so long ago, but I'm part of the first generation of Black people in the history of this country who was born with full rights and citizenship. That's not a long legacy. That's actually a very, very near legacy. That's my parents, your parents, they were born into a system of legal apartheid. It shouldn't be shocking then understanding that we are part of that first generation that had full rights of citizenship, that we're still struggling, that we haven't been able to make up for 350 years of slavery and legal discrimination.
Jami: It's not ancient history, it's our history.
Nikole: No, it's very, very present. We just lost John Lewis, someone who fought against apartheid in this country. This is not ancient history. There are still living people in our society right now who experienced where it was legal to discriminate against Black Americans in every aspect of American life, where we lived, where we went to school, where we could shop, where we would sit in public transportation, whether we could use a public library, this is one generation behind me. Yet the way that we're taught this is Dr. King matched We passed laws and everything is okay.
Then we even freeze Dr. King. We freeze him in 1963 with the March on Washington, and we ignore King in 1967, in 1968, when he was assassinated, who was much more radical than that message in 1963, because that King in 1963, and even then it's just one part of his speech, the speech about little Black children and little white children that were constituting the character, but we ignore the part of that speech where he talks about the check that was returned marked insufficient funds.
We ignore the part of that speech that talks about the debt that this country owes. That's really what my work is trying to get us to focus on what America still owes and what America has refused to address.
Jami: We always talk about the founding documents, the spirit of the founding documents, and you mentioned the reconstruction amendments, which have never been truly realized. Thinking again about the spirit of the 1619 project and Dr. King's mission, what aspect, what spirit, what part of our getting back to the trajectory would you want to capture in this moment?
Nikole: My opening essay for the 1619 project is about democracy. It is actually Black Americans, through centuries of resistance, bloody, often bloody violent resistance being visited upon us who have turned our country into as close of a democracy as it is. What's been so fascinating about this moment that we're in with Trump and him not wanting to concede the election is many white Americans were sure that our democracy is 250 years old, so therefore our democracy can withstand this assault. That's not true. Our democracy is really only 50 years old.
We did not have a true democracy until 1968. Of course, 1965 was a passage of the Voting Rights Act and 1968 is when we ended the last discrimination in the law. That is a very young democracy, and it is a very tenuous democracy because that democracy, of course, only came through a bloody civil rights struggle that was led by Dr. King and ultimately that cost Dr. King his life, as well as many other martyrs of the movement. If we think about that, then we understand how precious and vulnerable our democracy is and that Black Americans like Dr. King were our founding fathers as well, because they were the founding fathers of a true democracy, not democracy on paper, but democracy in fact.
When you have large segments of your population who are brutally and violently denied the right to vote, you are not a democracy. It is Black people who have always believed in those founding ideals, who have expanded democracy for all marginalized people and yet we do not get the credit for that. We think about the civil rights movement, the way that we're taught that it's somehow that this was a movement for Black Americans. This is a movement to democratize America, not just about Black rights.
This was about whether we were going to live up to the reconstruction amendments which expanded democracy and rights for all Americans and particularly marginalized Americans of all kinds. That's what I wish we would think about when we think about Dr. King's legacy and the legacy of all of those both famous and little known Americans who fought, that this wasn't just about Black people fighting for their rights, but it was about Black people fighting for democracy for all of us.
Tanzina: Nikole Hannah Jones is the creator of the 1619 project. One person who fought for democracy for all was Dr. Bernard Lafayette, an architect of one of three marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.
Bernard: You got to look at the power structure because it's power that keeps evil things in place. Martin Luther King had a very simple definition of power. He was very articulate and all kind of syllables and stuff like that and his words sound good. When it came to power, it was very simple. Martin Luther King said, "Power is the ability to either supply or withdraw needed resource." That's where the economic withdrawal comes from. You can't run a bus unless you have people who are going to pay the fare.
When they had segregated buses down in Montgomery, Alabama, the people who were riding the buses and segregated and put in the back of the bus were paying their fare. When they had the bus boycott, it was just a withdrawal of needed resources.
Tanzina: As we come to the close of our program, I want to bring you Brian Lehrer's discussion about income inequality with the Reverend Dr. William J. Barber, II, the president and senior lecturer of Repairers of the Breach, as well as co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign. Here's Brian.
Brian: Rev. Barber, we're so honored that you could join us first of all. People who know Dr. King's story know that when he was killed in 1968, the main focus of his work was what he called the Poor People's Campaign. You used that same term to describe your main work. Can you describe for our audience, including some people unfamiliar with you how much you're explicitly trying to pick up where Dr. King left off?
Rev. Barber: We said this is what needs to happen, first of all, we need a full and complete, comprehensive, just response to COVID which ensures health care for everybody, which ensures everybody gets free vaccines, which ensures our rent protection from evictions, rent moratoriums without having the credit problems on the backend, mortgage moratoriums. We need everybody to get a living wage. He ran on that. We don't need that to happen two years. It needs to happen now.
Our public health officials that advice us, one from Harvard, one from UCLA, one from Drexel said to us that the fissures of poverty and racial disparity is what has given this COVID such a hole in our society. They reminded us that while people are dying, there's a second disaggregation. Poor and low-wealth people are really the ones dying, whether they're white or Black because they are the ones that are the essential workers. They're the ones in the jobs that are low wages. They're the ones that jobs that didn't have health care. Poor and low-wealth people are dying at a disparate number, and we've got to change that.
Brian: Rev. Barber, I'm thinking about the history of the 1960s when President Kennedy and then President Johnson took office and they were pro-civil rights, more or less, but Martin Luther King was pushing them to get more serious and get more real. Is there anything from that history that could help model from today or for today how major civil rights leaders like yourself and others could exert the most influence?
Rev. Barber: I think that we have to understand, like Dr. King did, that the movement must be intersectional and interracial, that we must take up the issues, not just what affects Black people, but what affects all of us. I often, when I'm in the South and in Appalachia, I teach people, sometimes an all-white audience. The first map I put up on the board to help them see is I show them the map on voter suppression, racist voter suppression. Then after that, I overlay that map with poverty. I show them all the people that get elected because of racial voter suppression and where they stand on living wages and healthcare and dealing with poverty.
9 times out of 10 in that room, people would say, "Wait a minute, do that again." When I show it to them again, they say, "Well, we're being played against one another." I said exactly right. That is why voting rights has to be as a much issue for white folks, as dealing with wages has to be an issue for Black folks. It's not separate. That's one of the legacies of Dr. King. He said to us in 1965, we often don't read this speech, the one at the end of the Selma to Montgomery.
He said that the reason we had a segregated society after 1868, after the first reconstruction was because of the fear of the aristocracy of the masses of Negroes and white people joining together to build the beloved community and create the kind of voting block. Dr. King knew that that was even around the voting rights bill. It wasn't just to get voting rights for Black people. It was to create fusion coalitions of Black and white and brown people building a political base that changed reality. We have to engage in that way.
I think that we have to realize that politics is not just about getting people elected, but it's about pushing people. For instance, Johnson got elected in 64, right? He beat Goldwater. The movement stood behind him. Not long after he was inaugurated in January, the movement was in Selma. They didn't wait. They started pushing him, even though he didn't get elected to do voting rights they pushed him to do that. They changed the context, the political context, and that's what we have to do.
Brian: Could you see yourself or anyone else right now, and I mean potentially you, with the access that you have with the power of your voice, with as much as your movement has gotten out as the Martin Luther King to Biden's Kennedy or Johnson. Would you want that role?
Rev. Barber: Well, what I see my role as is doing what the Lord has called me to do. I'm very serious as a Christian preacher that the first scripture that Jesus preached, "Whilst the spirit of the Lord is upon me to preach good news to the poor." The word poor there's ptōchois. It means those who've been made poor because of economic exploitation. That's the Greek translation of those ancient words. This movement, and with my co-chair, and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, we've decided, we're going to be servants of a movement.
What we do is we put people in the room. We believe in the agency of poor and low-wealth people. When we decide to have this meeting with the transition team, they invited a few of us. We said, "No, we can't meet like that." They said, "What?" They said, "No, who do you want to bring?" We said, "We want to bring a bunch of people with us." They say, "How many?" We said, "Probably 30." The uniqueness of Dr. King, I remember what he said in the Poor People's Campaign, "I'm taking poor people to the capital and we're going to stay there until the nation shifts." Then he was shot before he was able to do that.
That was his goal, to use whatever strength he had, whatever personality he had, whatever power he had, whatever persuasion he had, along with Latino leaders like Ceser Chavez and native leaders and the welfare rights women, to gather poor people to bring them to the nation's capital because he believed in that agency. I still believe in the agency of poor and low-wealth people, whether they're from Appalachia or Alabama, North Carolina, North Dakota, whether they are Apache or Latino to whether they are from Montana or Mississippi, that's who we are organizing. That's the only group that can fundamentally shift this nation and shift the politics of this nation.
Tanzina: The Rev. Dr. William J Barber II.
Speaker 2: As one of America's first venues for all artists of color could perform with dignity and respect, the Apollo Theater represents Dr. King's principles. We're proud to partner with WNYC and The Takeaway for MLK and the Fierce Urgency of Now. Now, most people think of singers when they think of the Apollo, but we've also had a very long tradition of showcasing America's best spoken word artists, Blaxican poet, activist, and author, Leslé Honoré is in that tradition. She hopes her work will give voice to the people who are too often unheard or silenced. We hope that you'll hear her.
Leslé: Get your hands off my king. Get your white-washing and emasculating, rewriting history, lie-telling hands off my king. Get your hands off his legacy. His words, our dream. Get your hands off my king. Get your misquoting, your paraphrasing, hiding a knife behind your back. Get your wire-tapping, bait-setting, operative training, bomb-throwing, [unintelligible 00:42:10] wearing, Trump-voting, trigger-pulling, assassinating hands off my king. He wasn't a pacifist, cheek-turning, boot-licking Negro. He was a man marching, blow-taking, suit-wearing revolutionary preaching Black woman loving, Black children raising king. Get his name out of your mouth.
He's not rolling over in his grave when we scream Black Lives Matter, when we flood the streets in protest, when we shut down your highways and stores on Black Fridays, when we organize and fight against your pseudo-liberalism that likes us negros quiet and calm, ball-dribbling, touchdown making, joke taking, shucking and jiving, he isn't rolling over in his grave. He's applauding so please, get your hands off our king.
Tanzina: That's all for us today. Everything you heard was excerpted from longer conversations related to Dr. King, the civil rights movement, social justice and inequality. To experience the full interviews, we invite you to check out wnyc.org and apollotheater.org. I'm Tanzina Vega. Thanks so much for joining us for MLK and the Fierce Urgency of Now. This is The Takeaway.
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