As a graduate student of Atlanta University, I studied Martin Luther King Jr. extensively for two years to fulfill graduation requirements, resulting in a published thesis entitled, “Martin Luther King’s Opposition to the War in Vietnam.”
Although my concentration lay in his opposition to war and violence, I was impressed with his overall perspective of race in America. Then, with the tragedies in Charleston and North Charleston, I began conjecturing his position towards Black Lives Matter as it is viewed by many as an organization just to cause public disruption.
For nearly four centuries, there have been countless occurrences whereby African-Americans were slain by those in official and unofficial authority. Black Lives Matter is the resultant reaction, which has grown tired of the ill treatment. I believe the following would be considered a Kingian perspective.
Firstly, Black Lives Matter is a cry of disappointment, daily hurt, persistent pain. It is the reaction to the failure that all lives matter. It is the effect of unfair treatment and not the cause. If all citizens were treated fairly, it would not have come into existence; but America appears to be concerned with some as opposed to all. One statistical report (2015) states that police officers killed at least 102 unarmed blacks — more than any other race; unarmed blacks were killed at five times the rate of unarmed whites; and only nine of the 102 cases resulted in officers being charged.
The hurt and pain is so deep that when a white mayor and police chief expeditiously condemned the killing of an unarmed black citizen and immediately fired the white officer, the mayor and police chief were still rebuked.
Secondly, Black Lives Matter is a reminder that the African-American community has been crying out for years that some police officers are socio-racially sick. It has a legitimate goal to call to action the injustices committed; it is the manner by which it makes its demands. There must be a network of action to prevent killing unarmed citizens.
Dr. King would advise Black Lives Matter, however, that non-violent direct action is still the means to make positive changes.
Thirdly, Black Lives Matter points to the failure of the African-American middle class in assisting the black poor. There are too many black ministers who live within gated communities and utter pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities Sunday after Sunday; too many black politicians who contemplate the next political level and not doing enough within their present office; too many black businesspersons whose financial pockets bulge with superfluity but ignore the unemployed.
It is a chronic shame that many of the black middle class have moved from the community and stand aloof that Dr. King’s not-too-often quote still rings true: “They have left the stench of the backwaters of the black community and now sail down the freshwaters of mainstream America, forgetting about their drowning brothers and sisters.” Needless to mention the nouveau riche African-Americans — they are more concerned with conspicuous consumption and their economic portfolio than their social portfolio of dealing with the problems of the poor.
Black Lives Matter is a reminder to timid moderate and reserved liberal whites who feel blacks are now treated impartially within race relations. If it were not for radical whites who stand with African-Americans and other minority groups, the latter two would be nearly companionless in making America a greater nation.
Finally, Black Lives Matter is a call to the white clergy. Seldom, if ever, do they preach about race and its ugliness. They lecture on the love of God and Jesus Christ but remain predominantly silent on the issue of race. They are contented with the status quo of negative peace than the benefits of positive tension. They lack the moral courage of Revs. James Reeb, Bruce Klunder and Jonathan Daniels. If any other leaders are to bring about positive racial change within America, it is the white clergy. They have the capacity not only of a moral voice but moral action.
The above may be interpreted as more Darbyian than Kingian; but it is my opinion Dr. King would agree if the senseless killings of unarmed citizens continue, future generations will still be shouting, “Black lives matter! Black lives matter!”
Henry E. Darby is a Charleston County Council member, representing District 4.