January 15th is Martin Luther King day in America. I think that he deserves better. Like Rosa Parks he has become a safe symbol, of what was certainly not a safe movement, and he got more radical, not less, as he got older. I was glad to see Idiot/Savant giving voice to some of Martin Luther King’s more radical ideas.
But, as I’ve said before, I think it’s important to remember that the movement was much wider than one great orator.* So I’m not going to quote Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream Speech” – instead I’m going to write about another speech that was to have been given at the March on Washington.
John Lewis gave the speech for the Student Non-Violent Co-Ordinating Committee that day. He had written an angry speech, that criticised the governemnt, and didn’t preach patience. Other organisers put immense pressure on him to remove the more radical portions of his speech. He gave into that pressure, and the speech he gave is available here
This is the speech he was to have given:
We march today for jobs and freedom, but we have nothing to be proud of. For hundreds and thousands of our brothers are not here. They have no money for their transportation, for they are receiving starvation wages—or no wages at all.
In good conscience, we cannot support the administration’s civil rights bill; for it is too little, and too late. There’s not one thing in the bill that will protect our people from police brutality.
This bill will not protect young children and old women from police dogs and fire hoses, for engaging in peaceful demonstrations. This bill will not protect the citizens in Danvllle, Virginia, who must live in constant fear in a police state. This bill will not protect the hundreds of people who have been arrested on trumped-up charges. What about the three young men in Americas, Georgia, who face the death penalty for engaging in peaceful protest?
The voting section of this bill will not help thousands of black citizens who want to vote. It will not help the citizens of Mississippi, of Alabama, and Georgia, who are qualified to vote, but lack a sixth grade education, ‘ One man, one vote’ is the African cry. It is ours, too. (It must be ours.)
People have been forced to leave their homes because they dared to exercise their right to resister to vote. What is in the bill that will protect the homeless and starving people of this nation? What is there in this bill to insure the equality of a maid who earns $5 a week in the home of a family whose income is $100,000 a year?
For the first time in 100 years this nation is being awakened to the fact that segregation is evil and that it must be destroyed in all forms. Your presence today proves that you have been aroused to the point of action.
We are now involved in a serious revolution. This nation is still a place of cheap political leaders who build their career on immoral compromises and ally themselves with open forms of political, economic and social exploitation. What political leader here can stand up and say ‘My party is the party of principles