By Attorney Jacqueline Hubbard, ASALH President
Most of us can remember where we were on the day Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. died.
I was on my way back to my college campus after picking up two Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) comrades at the Philadelphia Airport. We were heading back to Bryn Mawr College, where they were to speak at a fundraising forum in opposition to the Vietnamese War. We were shattered. We wept.
We knew African Americans would always miss and need the beloved Dr. King. There was nobody like him. We proceeded to the fundraiser, announced his death, and continued on with our teach-in. It was what Dr. King would have wanted.
After all, the civil rights campaign of the 1960s was about the preservation of our civil rights.
Don’t forget the violence: Malcolm X, killed; John F. Kennedy, killed; Robert Kennedy, killed; Medgar Evers, killed; Emmitt Till, killed. As we remember Dr. King, let us also remember the terror, shootings, beatings, lynchings, dogs, fire hoses, marches, arrests, incarcerations and the burning buses.
Remember the hate, but seek out the love and work for peace. We must protect our rights and remember the Civil War Amendments. The 13th Amendment abolished involuntary servitude or slavery (except for convicted criminals). The 14th Amendment afforded the protections of the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses and the 15th Amendment afforded black men the right to vote.
A few years after the Civil War, President Ulysses S. Grant, ensured the passage of the first Civil Rights Act. This act protected black Americans from having any “governmental entity” from infringing upon or denying any rights guaranteed under the United States Constitution, and is used daily in the federal courts.
The 1964 Civil Rights Act was begun by President Kennedy and enacted under President Lyndon B. Johnson. The Voting Rights Act was also passed the next year. Under more conservative federal administrations, many of these rights have been compromised, especially the right to vote. Let us hold our elected officials accountable and vote accordingly.
Dr. King spent his life fighting for civil rights — on the streets, roads and by-ways of this country. He not only supported the SCLC, but he also all civil rights groups he considered “Drum Majors for Justice,” including SNCC.
His dream never became a complete reality, but America became a better place. Remember him and honor him as you will on this national holiday. Let his will, his strength, his genius and his faith inspire you.
Never give up. Stand up for justice; take to the streets when necessary. Know your history and believe in the future, for we have seen it all; the worst that can be done to a group of people over a period of over 400 years.
Through unity, compassion, force and faith, we can sustain ourselves through the fire, injustice, institutionalized racism, all the way through to Dr. King’s dream. Think of his life, the movement, the sacrifices made by so many people and never give up.
People died, Dr. King died, so that we, who still live, can change the direction of America by exercising our right to vote. This should never be taken for granted. We must continue the struggle and unite with those who empathetically join us in the battle. We will prevail.
Attorney Jacqueline Hubbard graduated from the Boston University Law School. She is currently the president of the St. Petersburg Branch of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Inc.