January 15th is Martin Luther King day in America. I think that he deserves better. Like Rosa Parks he has become a safe symbol, of what was certainly not a safe movement, and he got more radical, not less, as he got older. I was glad to see Idiot/Savant giving voice to some of Martin Luther King's more radical ideas.
But, as I've said before, I think it's important to remember that the movement was much wider than one great orator.* So I'm not going to quote Martin Luther King's "I have a Dream Speech" - instead I'm going to write about another speech that was to have been given at the March on Washington.
John Lewis gave the speech for the Student Non-Violent Co-Ordinating Committee that day. He had written an angry speech, that criticised the governemnt, and didn't preach patience. Other organisers put immense pressure on him to remove the more radical portions of his speech. He gave into that pressure, and the speech he gave is available here
This is the speech he was to have given:
We march today for jobs and freedom, but we have nothing to be proud of. For hundreds and thousands of our brothers are not here. They have no money for their transportation, for they are receiving starvation wages—or no wages at all.
In good conscience, we cannot support the administration's civil rights bill; for it is too little, and too late. There's not one thing in the bill that will protect our people from police brutality.
This bill will not protect young children and old women from police dogs and fire hoses, for engaging in peaceful demonstrations. This bill will not protect the citizens in Danvllle, Virginia, who must live in constant fear in a police state. This bill will not protect the hundreds of people who have been arrested on trumped-up charges. What about the three young men in Americas, Georgia, who face the death penalty for engaging in peaceful protest?
The voting section of this bill will not help thousands of black citizens who want to vote. It will not help the citizens of Mississippi, of Alabama, and Georgia, who are qualified to vote, but lack a sixth grade education, ‘ One man, one vote’ is the African cry. It is ours, too. (It must be ours.)
People have been forced to leave their homes because they dared to exercise their right to resister to vote. What is in the bill that will protect the homeless and starving people of this nation? What is there in this bill to insure the equality of a maid who earns $5 a week in the home of a family whose income is $100,000 a year?
For the first time in 100 years this nation is being awakened to the fact that segregation is evil and that it must be destroyed in all forms. Your presence today proves that you have been aroused to the point of action.
We are now involved in a serious revolution. This nation is still a place of cheap political leaders who build their career on immoral compromises and ally themselves with open forms of political, economic and social exploitation. What political leader here can stand up and say ‘My party is the party of principles? The party of Kennedy is also the party of Eastland. The party of Javits is also the party of Goldwater. Where is our party?
In some parts of the South we work in the fields from sun-up to sun-down for $12 a week. In Albany, Georgia, nine of our leaders have been indicted not by Dixicrats but by the Federal Government for peaceful, protest. But what did the Federal Government do when Albany's Deputy Sheriff beat Attorney C. B. Kine and left him half dead? What did the Federal Government do when local police officials kicked and assaulted the pregnant wife of Slater King, and she lost her baby?
It seems to me that the Albany indictment is part of a conspiracy on the part of the Federal Government and local politicians in the interest of expediency.
Moreover, we have learned—and you—should know—since we are here for Jobs and Freedom—that within the past ten days a spokesmen for the Administration appeared in a secret session before the committee that's writing the civil-rights bill and opposed and has almost killed a provision that would have guaranteed in voting suits, for the first time, a fair federal district judge. And, I might add, this Admistration's bill or any other civil rights bill—as the 1960 civil-rights act—will be totally worthless when administered by racist judges, many of whom have been consistently appointed by President Kennedy.
I want to know, which side is the Federal Government on?
The revolution is at hand, and we must free ourselves of the chains of political and economic slavery. The non-violent revolution is saying, ‘We will not wait for the courts to act, for we have been waiting for hundreds of years. We will not wait for the President, the Justice Department, nor Congress, but we will take matters into our own hands and create a source of power, outside of any national structure that could and would assure us a victory.’ To those who have said, ‘Be patient and wait’, we must say that, ‘Patience is a dirty and nasty word’. We cannot be patient, we do not want to be free gradually, we want our freedom, and we want it now. We cannot depend on any political party, for both the Democrats and the Republicans have betrayed the basic principles of the Declaration of Independence.
We all recognize the fact that if any radical social, political and economic changes are to take place in our society, the people, the masses, must bring them about. In the struggle we must seek more than more civil rights; we must work for the community love, peace, and true brotherhood. Our minds, souls, and hearts cannot rest until freedom and justice exist for all the people.
The revolution is a serious one, Mr. Kennedy is trying to take the revolution out of the street and put it in the courts. Listen Mr. Kennedy, Listen Mr. Congressmen, Listen fellow citizens, the black masses are on the march for jobs and freedom, and we must say to the politicians that there won't be a ‘cooling-off’ period.
All of us must get in the revolution. Get in and stay in the streets of every city, every village, and every hamlet of this nation, until true Freedom comes, until the revolution is complete. In the Delta of Mississippi, in southwest Georgia, in Alabama, Harlem, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia and all over this nation. The black masses are on the march!
We won't stop now. All of the forces of Eastland, Barnett, Wallace, and Thurmond won't stop this revolution. The time will come when we will not confine our marching to Washington. We will march through the South, through the Heart of Dixie, the way Sherman did. We shall pursue our own ‘scorched earth’ policy and burn Jim Crow to the ground—non-violently. We shall fragment the South into a thousand pieces and put them back together in the image of democracy. We will make the action of the past few months look petty. And I say to you , WAKE UP AMERICA!
* To be fair in most mainstream portrayals of the civil rights movmenet the great orator has a tired side-kick and an angry opposite.