Reclaiming the radical legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.
The legacy of the historic Black Civil Rights and Freedom Movement, and the contributions of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., were remembered in the U.S. on Jan. 21 in thousands of small and large events. Noteworthy was the highlighting of the radical foundations of MLK Day by emphasizing Dr. King’s condemnation of the devastation of U.S. wars, racism, imperialism and capitalism.
In Detroit, Gail Walker, keynote speaker at the 16th annual Martin Luther King Day event, emphasized King’s radical legacy. Walker, executive director of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization/Pastors for Peace, contrasted King’s actual, radical politics to the sanitized portrayal most people in the U.S. hear about. Walker also paid tribute to her late father, IFCO/PFP founder and previous director, the Rev. Lucius Walker.
Despite bitter cold leading to the cancellation of a planned march, hundreds attended the spirited indoor rally called by the Detroit MLK Day Committee and sponsored or endorsed by over 50 community and labor groups.
Committee organizer Abayomi Azikiwe chaired the rally, which was opened by the host, Father Near of the historic St. Matthew’s & St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church. Also speaking were Sean Crawford, a General Motors worker whose plant is slated for closure; and Rev. Bill Wylie-Kellerman representing the “Gilbert Seven” — Poor People’s Campaign members arrested for blocking the downtown streetcar Q Line, so-named for billionaire Quicken Loans owner Dan Gilbert.
Other speakers were UNITE-HERE President Nia Winston, whose union waged a successful strike against Marriott’s Book Cadillac hotel; Aurora Harris, poet and representative of the Lecturers Employee Organization, which fought for and won a decent contract for nontenure faculty at the University of Michigan; youth organizer Jonathan Roberts; and Detroit School-Board-in-Exile member Elena Herrada.
Over 5,000 people marched from Garfield High School into downtown Seattle on the 37th annual MLK Day. This year’s theme was “Affirmative Action = Justice.” Affirmative action in Washington state was overturned in 1998 by two arch-racist leaders with corporate backing, using ballot initiative I-200.
The effort to restore affirmative action through ballot initiative I-1000 was summarized by former State Rep. Jesse Wineberry. He announced that 380,000 signatures had been gathered and approved to bring I-1000 before the legislature and the voters.
Some of the most blatant forms of discrimination allowed since the overthrow of affirmative action include the loss of $3.5 billion in contract jobs for people of color and women. As part of community pushback, the march was preceded by a career opportunities fair, two dozen activism workshops and a rally.
A broad coalition of activists, workers, students and community members came out in Oakland, Calif., in the fifth annual event to “Reclaim the Radical Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” Organized by the Anti Police-Terror Project, the event’s multiple actions commemorated the 10th anniversary of the police murder of Oscar Grant, a young Black man who died at the hands of Bay Area Rapid Transit police. Grant’s murder sparked resistance to police terror in the entire Bay Area.
Beginning with a sunrise ceremony, the day included a militant march through downtown Oakland past the police department, city jail and court buildings. Led by a sound truck driven by APTP activists and supporters such as Third World Resistance, the march echoed with chants against white supremacy and racism. Speakers tied together the fight against racism, the migrant rights movement and the growing struggle against gentrification in the city.
Later at Oscar Grant Plaza, people’s assemblies were held on a multitude of resistance issues. Organizers occupied the plaza for 10 hours to mark the anniversary of Grant’s murder.
Contributing to this article were Judy Greenspan, Martha Grevatt and Jim McMahan.