Beyond THE FUTURE: Words I Wish We’d Live By from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The text incorporated in Shell’s print came from Dr. King’s 1964 Nobel Lecture. I’ve spent some time this morning visiting two impressive sites that feature this speech and many more made by Dr. King during his short adulthood: The King Institute at Stanford and The Seattle Times on-line King exhibit. And as I read one of Dr. King’s final speeches (given March 31, 1968 at the National Cathedral in Washington), I recognized segments of the text from Shell’s print as well as other points Dr. King made that ring remarkably true so many years later.
Think of the poor of Haiti when you read below about the poor in India; think of the tragic, misguided wars in Afghanistan and Iraq when you read below about our tragic, misguided efforts in Vietnam. Then consider where we could be right now if our government had simply done what was right 40 years ago and spent the past four decades pursuing Dr. King’s challenge to care for the poor and stop waging war:
“But I say to you this morning, my friends, there were those depressing moments. How can one avoid being depressed when he sees with his own eyes evidences of millions of people going to bed hungry at night? How can one avoid being depressed when he sees with his own eyes God’s children sleeping on the sidewalks at night? In Bombay more than a million people sleep on the sidewalks every night. In Calcutta more than six hundred thousand sleep on the sidewalks every night. They have no beds to sleep in; they have no houses to go in. How can one avoid being depressed when he discovers that out of India’s population of more than five hundred million people, some four hundred and eighty million make an annual income of less than ninety dollars a year. And most of them have never seen a doctor or a dentist.
“As I noticed these things, something within me cried out, ‘Can we in America stand idly by and not be concerned?’ And an answer came: ‘Oh no!’ Because the destiny of the United States is tied up with the destiny of India and every other nation. And I started thinking of the fact that we spend in America millions of dollars a day to store surplus food, and I said to myself, ‘I know where we can store that food free of charge—in the wrinkled stomachs of millions of God’s children all over the world who go to bed hungry at night.’ And maybe we spend far too much of our national budget establishing military bases around the world rather than bases of genuine concern and understanding.
“Not only do we see poverty abroad, I would remind you that in our own nation there are about forty million people who are poverty-stricken. I have seen them here and there. I have seen them in the ghettos of the North; I have seen them in the rural areas of the South; I have seen them in Appalachia. I have just been in the process of touring many areas of our country and I must confess that in some situations I have literally found myself crying.
“I was in Marks, Mississippi, the other day, which is in Whitman County, the poorest county in the United States. I tell you, I saw hundreds of little black boys and black girls walking the streets with no shoes to wear. I saw their mothers and fathers trying to carry on a little Head Start program, but they had no money. The federal government hadn’t funded them, but they were trying to carry on. They raised a little money here and there; trying to get a little food to feed the children; trying to teach them a little something.
“...And I was in Newark and Harlem just this week. And I walked into the homes of welfare mothers. I saw them in conditions—no, not with wall-to-wall carpet, but wall-to-wall rats and roaches. I stood in an apartment and this welfare mother said to me, ‘The landlord will not repair this place. I’ve been here two years and he hasn’t made a single repair.’ She pointed out the walls with all the ceiling falling through. She showed me the holes where the rats came in. She said night after night we have to stay awake to keep the rats and roaches from getting to the children. I said, ‘How much do you pay for this apartment?’ She said, ‘a hundred and twenty-five dollars.’ I looked, and I thought, and said to myself, ‘It isn’t worth sixty dollars.’ Poor people are forced to pay more for less. Living in conditions day in and day out where the whole area is constantly drained without being replenished. It becomes a kind of domestic colony. And the tragedy is, so often these forty million people are invisible because America is so affluent, so rich. Because our expressways carry us from the ghetto, we don’t see the poor.”
“I am convinced that it is one of the most unjust wars that have ever been fought in the history of the world. Our involvement in the war in Vietnam has torn up the Geneva Accord. It has strengthened the military-industrial complex; it has strengthened the forces of reaction in our nation. It has put us against the self-determination of a vast majority of the Vietnamese people, and put us in the position of protecting a corrupt regime that is stacked against the poor.It has played havoc with our domestic destinies. This day we are spending five hundred thousand dollars to kill every Vietcong soldier. Every time we kill one we spend about five hundred thousand dollars while we spend only fifty-three dollars a year for every person characterized as poverty-stricken in the so-called poverty program, which is not even a good skirmish against poverty.
WHEN will we ever put our house in order? Will we do nothing but look back in another forty years and wish we’d started now?