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  • July 2018
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Freedom From Terror: MLK JR’s Legacy

“Your father and his brother, the mayor, came into the kitchen with a rope. They said a black man had raped a white woman and they were going out hunting for him. I was terrified.”

Until I was an adult, my mother had told me nothing about her dashing, handsome husband, my birth father.

She asked me not to look for him because he was “dangerous.” I honored her request until I was forty-seven years old, when I searched for and found my father, an old man living in South Georgia.

Mom was a beautiful, small town Northern Pennsylvania school teacher who had spent years caring for her sick mother. He, a charming Southern soldier on leave, had swept her off her feet. They married on a whim. On their honeymoon, he took her to visit his traditional, southern family where she discovered his true identity.

With a flare towards the romantic, mom picked her china pattern, ‘The Georgian’ by Homer Laughlin,  learned to make Southern Biscuits, got on a train back to Pennsylvania and seldom saw the man she married until after WWII.

He returned to discuss divorce, disown me, and disappear. He never appeared in our family story until I found him in his kitchen forty-seven years later.

“I always wondered what happened to you, but I never did anything about it.” sad words from my elderly father, as I sat at his knee bawling.

We spoke on the phone several times and then three months later he died. The end.  Yet my work was just beginning. I needed to forgive the trauma and loneliness, depression and anger that remained in me.

When I read this article, I remembered him again and thought about the terror he was responsible for in that Southern town so many years ago.


Who are the Poor?

America's Children In Poverty

Image by Monroes Dragonfly Americas Children in Poverty

Revisiting Marks, Mississippi

Marian Wright Edelman

During her research for the Children’s Defense Fund’s recent report “Held Captive”: Child Poverty in America, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Julia Cass visited the Mississippi Delta, New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and suburban Long Island, New York to profile three different kinds of child poverty. Her trip to Quitman County, Mississippi covered sadly familiar ground: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. visited the Black sharecropping community in Marks, the seat of Quitman County, in the summer of 1966 to preach at the funeral of a friend, and Marks was later chosen as the starting point of the mule train that left Mississippi for Washington, D.C. during the Poor People’s Campaign.

Cass describes the community Dr. King saw: “Quitman was one of the poorest counties in America in 1960. Many Black families lived in rented houses or in shacks on the plantations where they worked, subject to eviction at any time. The White side of town had paved streets; the Black side was unpaved. The Black schools, housed in inferior, poorly ventilated buildings and using out-of-date books from the White schools, held split sessions so the children could help plant, weed, and pick cotton at different times of year. Many families could not pay the 25 cents it cost for a lunch at school.”

Dr. Ralph Abernathy accompanied Dr. King on that trip, and in his autobiography he recalled how deeply their visit with children at a “fledgling” Head Start program affected Dr. King: “We looked around the primitive schoolhouse and saw them watching us, wide-eyed and silent, having been told who we were. They seemed bright and alert, but something bothered me about them. Then I realized what it was: virtually all of them were under weight, a condition that lent a special poignancy to their enormous eyes.” After watching the teacher divide a single apple into quarters for four hungry children at lunchtime, Dr. King uncharacteristically broke down in tears and had to leave the room. Later, he said to Dr. Abernathy, “I can’t get those children out of my mind… We can’t let that kind of poverty exist in this country. I don’t think people really know that little school children are slowly starving in the United States of America. I didn’t know it.” Making this poverty visible to the whole nation became the goal of the Poor People’s Campaign.

Senator Robert Kennedy had a similar reaction when I accompanied him on a trip to Mississippi the next year so he could see the poverty and hunger there first-hand. His profound shock and sadness motivated him to act too. Cass says, “Senator Kennedy’s visit put hunger on the national agenda and sparked a coalition of individuals and groups that produced reports on child hunger, malnutrition, illness, and death and pointed out the callousness of the federal school lunch program that had no place at its table for six million needy children whose families could not afford to pay… The spotlight on poverty, which shone for about a decade (following Dr. King and Senator Kennedy’s visits to the Mississippi Delta), did succeed in expanding the availability of food commodities, food stamps and free school lunches and breakfasts. This basic safety net is still helping long-time poor families, and newly poor families losing jobs and homes during the current recession, avoid the kind of utter destitution, hunger, malnutrition, and starvation that shocked Dr. King, Senator Kennedy and the nation.” In the current debate over the federal budget, some pieces of the safety net are once again under attack—but this is one of the many places where our nation has made progress in fulfilling Dr. King’s dream.

But is the safety net enough? “It is hard,” Cass says, “not to think about how Dr. King would respond to the place 42 years after the Poor People’s Campaign, when its signature mule train departed from Marks. He would not see a teacher having to quarter an apple to feed hungry children… since the vast majority meets the poverty requirements [for free meals at school]. This alone reveals what has changed and what has not… [T]he safety net set up in the 1960s and 1970s—food stamps, school lunches and breakfasts, Medicaid, housing programs, Head Start—has ameliorated some of the awful effects of poverty in Quitman County. But education and support systems to pull the next generation—the children—out of poverty are vastly insufficient and spotty. The inadequacy of federal, state, and local support for poor children in Mississippi is underlined by this startling fact: The after-school tutoring and reading programs in Quitman and three other Delta counties are financed by what is essentially foreign aid, The Bernard van Leer Foundation of the Netherlands”—which focuses on children and families in what it refers to as oppressed societies.

Despite the critical immediate solutions to the pervasive child hunger Dr. King saw, the underlying crisis—pervasive child poverty—persists in the Mississippi Delta and across the country. Many Americans depend on food stamps, and one in 50 Americans have no cash income, according to the New York Times. When one in five children in our nation are still poor, one in four still experience food insecurity, and the same communities that so affected Dr. King and Senator Kennedy in the 1960s still qualify as oppressed societies to international aid organizations today, millions of children still need the education and opportunities that will give them a springboard instead of a safety net—and launch them out of poverty for good.

How are our leaders responding? House Republican leaders are proposing draconian budget cuts in cost effective nutrition programs like WIC and education programs like Head Start millions of poor children desperately need. Why are we silent?

Click here to read “Held Captive”: Child Poverty in America.


I would like to know how Republicans propose to respond to Women and Children who will have trouble getting enough to eat if these cuts go through.

Does anybody know?

Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“I guess that it is all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps”.

I’d heard this quote about “bootstraps” and as I was searching for it, I found the following speech by Dr.MLK Jr.


On January 11, 1968 Dr Martin Luther King, Jr spoke at Ohio Northern University.

In that address he dealt with several concerns that are still current and highly relevant.

An excerpt from that message follows.



Now there’s another myth that I want to mention, because if we are going to have action programs that will prod the forces in power so that they will make the necessary concessions, we are going to have to understand why the forces in power need to be prodded. Now this leads me to say that we’ve got to get rid of the myth of over-exaggerating the bootstrap philosophy. By that I simply mean this: Over and over again we hear that the Negro should lift himself by his own bootstraps. Then there are those who say over and over again, “Other ethnic groups did it; why don’t you?” Now it doesn’t help the Negro for unfeeling and insensitive people to say to him that he’s been in this country more than 348 years and was brought here in chains, involuntarily, and yet people who have been here, other ethnic groups who have been here for a hundred or a hundred and fifty years have gotten ahead of him. That doesn’t help him at all. That only deepens his problem, his frustration, and almost his self- hatred. For the people who are that insensitive never stop to recognize the fact that no other ethnic group has been a slave on American soil.



They never stop to recognize the fact that the nation made the Negro’s color a stigma. It became something evil. You know even linguistics or semantics conspired against us on this. If you open Roget’s Thesaurus, you’ll find 120 synonyms for black. They are all degrading; smutty, dirty, lowly, every one of them. Now when you look for the 130 synonyms in that thesaurus for white, all of them [are] chaste, pure, everything elevated, and high and noble. So the society through its language structure came to the point of saying that a white lie is better than a black lie. If someone goes wrong in the family, you don’t call them a white sheep, it’s the black sheep of the family. If you know something about somebody, and you use that as a basis to bribe them and say that if you don’t give them this amount of money that you are going to expose them you don’t call that whitemail you call it blackmail. Go right down the language structure, and you see that everything conspired to make the Negro think that there was something wrong with him because of his color.



The other thing is that no ethnic group has lifted itself by its own bootstraps. The Negro was freed from the bondage of physical slavery through the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, but he wasn’t given any land to make that freedom meaningful. It was something like keeping a man in jail for many, many years, and then suddenly discovering that he is not guilty of the crime for which he was convicted. Then you go to the man and say, “Now you’re free,” but you don’t give him any bus fare to get to town. You don’t give him any money to get clothes to put on his back or to get on his feet in life again. Every system of justice or code of jurisprudence would rise up against this, and yet this is exactly what America did to the black man. It freed him from slavery and then left him there penniless, illiterate. He didn’t have a thing, and there was no land provided.



The important thing that America must realize is this: That at the same time that she refused to give the black man anything, she was giving away millions of acres of land in the West and the Midwest through an act of Congress. Not only did she give the land, she built land grant colleges to teach them to farm. She provided county agents to help them and to get them expert, to give them expertise in farming. But not only that, the nation provided low interest rates in later years so that they could mechanize their farms. Not only that, many of these persons are being paid today not to farm, and these are many of the persons who are telling the Negro that he should lift himself by his own bootstraps. A wonderful thing. (applause) I guess that it is all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps. Through centuries of denial, centuries of neglect, and centuries of injustice many, many Negroes have been left bootless. This does not mean that we do nothing for ourselves. It does not mean that we should not amass our economic and political resources to reach our legitimate goals. It simply means recognizing, the nation recognizing, that it owes a great debt on the basis of the injustices of the past.



More coverage of Dr King’s historic visit

to Ohio Northern is available on the University’s Web site.




Black and White:Glenn Beck and The Mosque


Demonstrating against the Mosque near Ground Zero

“It seems that we can’t force people to be sensitive, can we? We wish for it, we can ask for it, but freedom is just that..Free.”

It broke my heart to see the division on the National Mall in Washington, DC over the weekend.  Glenn Beck, uncharacteristically, tried to allay the nation’s fears by advertising his event as “Re-Storing Honor”, and being “pro-military” (which it apparently was). But, I hope some of the overwhelmingly white audience felt uncomfortable claiming to represent this as God’s way for America to “restore honor”.

I’m glad that MLK Jr’s niece was able to call for the end of racism during her speech before this group. I didn’t hear the audience’s response but I hope it was wildly enthusiastic. For some reason, Rev. Al Sharpton and a group of African-Americans didn’t feel welcomed, despite the fact that our US military is highly integrated. Rev. Al held a separate rally elsewhere on the National Mall

Denying that it was insensitive to hold the event on the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr‘s, I have a Dream speech, despite much controversy rang hollow. Even if it was “accidental”, that fact alone betrays how far apart we whites are from the hearts of African-Americans. I include myself here since I didn’t know about this date. But someone as high-profile as Glenn Beck should have had a better advisor if he wished to avoid controversy.  But this is where his ‘alleged’ innocence wears thin to me..since when has Glenn Beck ever wished to avoid controversy?

But, Beck’s behavior aside, the insensitivity of holding this event on this exact date, in this exact place, is particularly notable given the cry for “sensitivity” we are hearing in NYC about the site of the mosque.  Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin seem no more “sensitive” to the feelings of African-Americans than is the Imam who wants to build his Center two blocks away from Ground Zero “sensitive” to the feelings of 9/11 survivors. Oh, but that’s different, demonstrators will say. Hmmm..how is it different?

It seems that we can’t force people to be sensitive, can we? We wish for it, we can ask for it, but freedom is just that..Free.