31. January 2013 05:20
by Administrator
1 Comments

Martin Luther King Day through the eyes of an Egyptian

31. January 2013 05:20 by Administrator | 1 Comments

Guest Blogger:  Amina ElHalawani, Fulbright FLTA, Birmingham Southern College  

A few days ago we celebrated Martin Luther King Day in the United States.  Being a Fulbright scholar in Birmingham, Alabama I got the opportunity to go to a celebration held at the historic 16th Street Baptist Church. With the presidential inauguration taking place on the same day, it could not have been any better, any more celebratory or joyful.  People sang of freedom, of equality, of pride in the journey and the call for civil rights, but most importantly, they sang of the dream. Martin Luther King’s words “I have a dream” reverberated in the hall as they all cheered that the dream has to live on and on until it becomes fully realized, and I wondered…

The dream? Has it not been realized? Has not the Civil Rights Movement in the United States achieved its utmost goals, being crowned by the election of President Obama for a second term? Yet, as these thoughts ran through my head, I could still hear the chants “Ain't gonna let nobody turn me around...Turn me around...Turn me around...” and the occasional yell from the crowds, “Soldiers of the dream!” Moving is not enough to fully describe the celebration; full of emotion and pride people were celebrating, but in the midst of the ecstasy there was no sense of complacency, the fighting spirit instilled in them by a sense of responsibility and a calling to turn the world into a better place filled the air.

Being an Egyptian, I could immediately relate. I suddenly started visualizing Tahrir Square, the tear gas, and the water hoses… the determination, the courage and the strength of will… And back at the church the chants grew louder: “Ain't gonna let the administration turn me around...Turn me around...Turn me around...Ain't gonna let the administration turn me around...Keep on a-walkin', Keep on a-talkin'…Gonna build a brand new world.” I could see the millions who marched the streets of Egypt, hand in hand, united by the dream of building that brand new world. People of all ages, men and women, Muslims and Christians, liberals and conservatives, all marched… In the church, the choir sang, “Ain't gonna let no first-strike policy turn me around...Turn me around...Turn me around...”

The dream was alive, I could feel it in the air, I could see it in the eyes of everyone around me, as they glanced at me and smiled, knowing I am just a visitor and encouraging me to sing along. “We shall overcome” the choir started to sing, and the congregation suddenly, even more fired up, started singing along. One of the choir members doing a solo went into some kind of a trance while the people yelled “Hallelujah!” and started praying… They prayed in song, they honored the foot soldiers who were sitting among us, then put their hands together and the voices rose above the sound of the grand organ accompanying their singing.

“Where do we stand now? Two years after the revolution…Wow, two years already?” I thought to myself. Then, flashes of the packed squares and the patriotic songs that echoed in the streets as the news announced that Mubarak had stepped down rushed through my brain… What a feeling that was! Two years… it feels like so long ago now, people barely remember it. To many, this was the moment, nothing else mattered… it was going to be a nice smooth ride from there…

The chants in the church grew louder, as I held hands with the people beside me and joined the singing, “Oh Freedom… Oh Freedom… Oh Freedom, now!” On the fiftieth anniversary of major events in the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham, the dream was alive with all its greatness; the desire for a better world, for the right to be free, for the right to be treated with dignity, for the right to a world that rewards ingenuity, creativity and hard work... “Today, we stand on the shoulders of brave warriors” the preacher reminded, as he called on the people to go on, move forward and continue the journey… Fifty years the dream has lived on… “Is it going to take Egyptians that long too? Is it going to be that many years before we start reaping what our great warriors have sewn?” I certainly hope not! But, in the meantime, the dream must live on; it must be revived in every one of us… It is the dream that brought us all together, as communities, as a nation and as global citizens and it is keeping it constantly in sight that shall lead all of us through to the light at the end of the tunnel…

Oh Freedom… Oh Freedom… Oh Freedom, now!

21. January 2013 13:44
by Tammi Sharpe
4 Comments

A Leader: A tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, his fellow leaders and the Birmingham foot soldiers

21. January 2013 13:44 by Tammi Sharpe | 4 Comments

 

A Leader:  A tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, his fellow leaders and the Birmingham foot soldiers

Does America currently have a national leader fighting for a just American society like we had in the 1960s?  A leader that, as Binnie Myles said, would make you describe him/her as “the only leader that I can honestly say that I ever followed….If that man said, ‘go to jail,’ I went to jail.  And I was only 16 years at the time…..He stood out for justice and the right thing for all people, not just one.”  A leader, who could inspire you even in your 60s to protest like Emma Young, who had been born in 1902: “I was so enthused….I just love him so because he was teaching us so much.” A leader whom you would call “a parent…as well as a leader” like Mary E. Streeter Perry, who even lost her job for her participation.   In the 1960s, America had a number of such leaders, whose words generated reflection as well as action.

These quotes reflect a common thread that weaves through the hundreds of interviews with foot soldiers that have been conducted by BCRI in order to document the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham, AL.  In these interviews, foot soldiers describe mass meetings as occasions when thoughtful speakers translated the daily injustices African-Americans suffered into a discourse on rights and outlined a democratic means to obtain those rights.  These speakers’ rhetoric inspired thousands of foot soldiers to fill Birmingham’s streets in protest, to face fire hoses and dogs, and to go to jail.

Foot soldiers cite an array of inspirational speakers, such as Reverend Shuttlesworth, Andrew Young, James Bevel, Carlton Reese, and Reverend Abernathy.  And as many would suspect, Dr. King features prominently in the interviews.  The above quotes were specifically referencing Dr. King.  As evidenced by the passage of some thirty years after the protests when these interviews were conducted, Dr. King’s leadership has had enduring impact.  This most clearly come through in Mallory Coats interview.  At the age of 12 years, Mallory Coats was selected from among his fellow students to read the Emancipation Proclamation at an annual event held on New Year’s Day and at which Dr. King was the guest speaker.

“I had heard of Dr. King and the boycott of ’55 so he was not a stranger to me.  But, when I saw the policemen and all the crowds and all the people standing outside of the church, I just said to myself, ‘Dad, can we go home....?’ He said, ‘okay, you’re here, you’re going and you will do well.  No turning around.’  So, what could I do?  I got up, went on the stage and was sitting two persons from Dr. King and he gave his great address and I just sat there amazed.  That’s the first really Black person of renowned stature I had ever been [in] the company of.  I forgot about my speech.  I’m thinking wouldn’t it be great to be someone like that, to stand before people and demand their attention, to be so articulate and all that.  When it was my time on the program, I went through it and he [Dr. King] presented me this book….It’s a Negro history book and Langston Hughes was the writer of this book and his autograph is in it.  I made a promise to myself about a week after this to use this book to encourage black kids…to read.  And, so what I would do, especially when I was teaching…I would tell them [the black male students] the story of this book.  I said, “You know, I got a chance to meet one of the world’s greatest men and shake [his] hand.”  And they would say, “Who?”  I said, “Dr. Martin Luther King and I was just in the 6th grade.  And, I got that experience because I could read….You can see it’s old and has been used, but I made a promise to myself a long time ago that when it was time, I would use this book.  One of the reasons I believe I got a masters in reading was because I understood as a black male, it is so important that black males learn to read adequately…..This book has been something that has not lost its glamour or thrust with me at all.  I’ve gotten many awards, but this is the most precious thing I’ve ever received because of the spirit in which it was given and in the time that it was given….I was in the midst of the struggle and I found it to be encouraging.” 

Like these foot soldiers many Americans can still be awed by Dr. King’s eloquence.  His words can still stir our desires for a more just society.  The words of the foot soldiers, in addition to honoring Dr. King, are also inspiration.  These few foot soldiers are representative of thousands whose sacrifices substantially changed a culture of silence and conformity.  As we commemorate the legacy of Dr. King and the army of foot soldiers who made up the Civil Rights Movement, we may also wish to reflect in their honor on what more is needed to fully “transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”**  

 

*Starting in 1994 the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute began interviewing the foot soldiers of the Birmingham Civil Rights Movement as part of its Oral History Project.  Interviewees provide first hand insights on the Movement including becoming conscious of civil rights and equality, the organization and the philosophy behind the Movement, and personal reflections of participation some 30 years later.  

** King, M. L., “I Have a Dream”, March on Washington, Washington, D.C., 1963

 

15. January 2013 06:50
by Tammi Sharpe
0 Comments

"America's Challenge: Fulfilling the Dream"

15. January 2013 06:50 by Tammi Sharpe | 0 Comments

In June 1968, close to five years after Dr. Martin Luther King gave his speech, “I have a dream” in Washington, D.C., Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth gave a speech in Bay City, Michigan, titled “America’s Challenge:  Fulfilling the Dream.”   A copy of this speech is among the various items donated by Reverend Shuttlesworth to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.  As the leader of the civil rights movement in Birmingham, Reverend Shuttlesworth worked closely with Dr. King from 1955 till his death in 1968.   Reverend Shuttlesworth collaborated with Dr. King in an infinite number of ways, key amongst are the Montgomery bus boycott, the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the March on Washington, and protests in Birmingham including the one that resulted in Dr. King’s arrest in 1963 during which Dr. King wrote the famed “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”  From this close collaboration, Reverend Shuttlesworth gained some keen insights  and was intimately familiar with Dr. King’s thinking.  

Reverend Shuttlesworth’s speech, “America’s Challenge: Fulfilling the Dream,” provides not only a reflection on the meaning of Dr. King’s word but also an assessment of what followed in the five years after the speech.  In 1968 Reverend Shuttlesworth did not believe that the “dream” had been realized.  But at the same time he appreciated that he was speaking at a time of great change and progress.  In this speech, Reverend Shuttlesworth comments on the history of the civil rights movement highlighting a couple of major achievements, namely the passage of the Civil Rights Act and re-enfranchisement of African Americans.  He also discusses the essence of Dr. King’s “dream” as one of a tolerant society and economic and social justice. 

With the upcoming 50th Anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and in remembrance of Dr. King this January, Reverend Shuttlesworth’s words provide a useful guide to reflect on progress in realizing this “dream” in the last 45 years.   In some aspects, it is a speech that could be read today. 

“America’s Challenge:  Fulfilling the Dream”

There can no longer be any blinking of the fact that we are in the midst of a social and moral revolution in this land.

[….]

For unnumbered years America has allowed injustice to reign unchecked throughout the fabric of its whole life.  In the South there were open and flagrant violations against Blacks, poor Whites, and other minorities.  In the North there were the insidious, and many times, invisible workings of discrimination which were harder to see, but had the same chilling effect of killing hopes, shattering dreams, and stifling initiative.

[.…]

Then in 1955, under the leadership of a young prophet named Martin Luther King, Jr., Negroes moved to challenge the conscience of this nation by non-violent demonstrations.  It is now history – the battles of Montgomery, Alabama, Albany, Georgia, Birmingham, Alabama, which gave us the Civil Rights Bill, and Selma, Alabama, which gave Negroes the right to vote.  There was the historic 1963 March on Washington, joined in by white and black, rich and poor, high and low, in which this modern Moses spoke of his Dream for America.  His dream was not blacks overcoming whites or even the poor overcoming the rich; rather blacks and whites working together, those in power and with affluence helping to educate and lift the standards of the poor; and that somehow our land would seek to turn its face and energies from war and build here on these shores a heaven, a Beloved city, a brother hood-where man would become his brother’s keeper instead of his brother’s killer.

The Dreamer is dead but he lives in his dreams because they are really the dreams of America.  They are the dreams of hope, of fulfillment, of creativity, of richness of character and life, of peaceful protest against any and all injustices, of having enough and a little to spare, of every man looking out for his brother and standing with his brother, of every man looking into his own heart and overcoming by the disposition of love the violence therein.  This should be your dream; this is America’s Challenge. 

Dr. King and his workers dreamed of a society that could overcome its own violent and racist tendencies.  For it is a terrible violence that keeps men from becoming their best selves by whatever means it is accomplished.  It is violence that men may be born in a society, grow up within it and learn that there is really no place in society for them.  It is violence that some… in our society can brag of wall-to-wall carpets while so many complain of wall-to-wall roaches and rats.  It is violence that the education system of this land has left so many unprepared for a day of technology and automation.  

[….]

Speech Delivered by Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth, Bay City, Michigan, Saturday, June 1, 1968